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HONG KONG, CHINA — Four Hong Kong students, including two minors, were sentenced Thursday over their roles in an anti-government plot to set off bombs in public spaces.

A court sentenced the oldest of the four to more than five years in prison and sent the other three to juvenile rehabilitation centres in a case handled under the national security law, which China imposed on the city in 2020 to quell dissent.

The four defendants, now aged 17 to 21, were members of a little-known group called “Returning Valiant”, which promoted independence from China and had called for resistance after the security law was imposed.

The group allegedly planned to make bombs using the explosive TATP in 2021, and set them off in public areas including court buildings.

Before they could procure the materials, Hong Kong’s national security police arrested them in July of that year.

Defendant Alexander Au, now 21, “is obviously more culpable — he was involved in renting the room, planning and preparation, and reconnaissance of targeted buildings,” said senior judge Alex Lee.

Lee sentenced Au to five years and eight months in prison.

The three others, aged 17 to 20, were “merely foot soldiers in the conspiracy” and failed to procure TATP ingredients, the judge said.

They will be sent to training centres — rehabilitation-focused juvenile facilities that can hold 14- to 20-year-olds for up to three years.

How long they stay there will depend on evaluations conducted by correctional officers at the centres.

The group had pleaded guilty this month to one count of “conspiracy to cause an explosion” instead of the primary charge of “conspiracy to carry out terrorist activities”.

The former can be punished by up to 20 years in jail under the Hong Kong crimes ordinance, but the latter can lead to a life sentence under the security law.

Further legal proceedings are pending for four other individuals, aged 19 to 26, in the bomb plot case.

This was the second case brought using Hong Kong’s national security law in which minors were convicted and sentenced.

The first national security case involving minors concluded in October, with four teenagers — also members of Returning Valiant — sentenced to detention in a juvenile training centre.

They had pleaded guilty to “conspiracy to incite subversion” over public speeches about revolutions.

The national security law was imposed after Hong Kong was shaken by huge and often violent pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Authorities have said it was needed to restore stability and order, but according to critics, Hong Kong has seen its autonomous status and freedoms steadily eroded since it came into force.

— AFP

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