HONG KONG: A student from mainland China arrested at a Hong Kong democracy protest was sentenced to six weeks in prison for possession of an offensive weapon – the city’s first such case involving a mainlander in almost five months of unrest.
Since the first mass demonstrations in June, more than 3,300 people have been arrested in Hong Kong in connection to the protest movement, with some charged for rioting and illegal assembly.
Around one-third of the arrestees are students.
Chen Zimou, a 24-year-old music and English student originally from Chongqing in southwestern China, was arrested for carrying an extendable baton during a protest in July.
He denied participating in the protest and the prosecutors did not have any evidence to identify him as a protester.
He has already spent two weeks in custody after his conviction and will spend four more weeks behind bars following his sentencing in court yesterday.
Hong Kong has been upended by the huge, often violent, pro-democracy protests which have battered the financial hub’s reputation for stability.
Beijing runs the city under a “one country, two systems” model that grants Hong Kong freedoms unheard of on the authoritarian mainland, but many activists fear those liberties are being eroded.
Also on Thursday, a 16-year-old was found guilty of two counts of possessing offensive weapons, the first conviction of a juvenile since the protests started.
The boy was arrested in September when he was only 15, for carrying a laser pointer and a modified umbrella containing a walking stick.
Chen, who studies at the University of Hong Kong, goes across the border to the mainland Chinese city of Shenzhen every weekend to give piano lessons.
His lawyer said Chen carried a baton for self-defence following a mob attack on protesters by suspected triad gang members in Yuen Long train station – which he must pass through when commuting to Shenzhen.
That assault on July 21 left nearly 50 people including passers-by in hospital, some with horrific wounds.
Chen has been critical of both protest violence and police brutality, writing on Facebook after his arrest that the government should carry out an independent investigation into police actions, and that top officials “should propose a compromised solution to meet the protesters’ five demands.”
His status as a mainland student has brought him heavy criticism from internet users across the border.
On China’s Twitter-like Weibo, users blamed him for standing with “rioters” in Hong Kong, while some even went further, harassing his family.
Behind the “Great Firewall” on the mainland, news and information on Hong Kong’s protests have been heavily censored with state-owned media pushing its own narrative.
The city’s leader Carrie Lam has said she is “saddened” to know that many students have been arrested and some were severely injured, yet she has provided no solution to the crisis.
The first protests, in which millions marched, were sparked by a now-abandoned attempt to allow extraditions to the mainland.
But as Beijing took a hardline the movement snowballed. Protesters are now demanding an inquiry into the police, an amnesty for those arrested and fully free elections.