Three teenage activists from Hong Kong were imprisoned on Saturday under a national security measure imposed by Beijing, the latest instance of the government cracking down harshly on political dissent.
Aged 19 to 21, the activists from the now-disbanded organisation Student Politicism were charged with delivering lectures and distributing flyers pushing the populace to topple the Chinese communist government.
They entered a plea of guilty in July to “conspiracy to promote subversion,” a violation of the security ordinance Beijing imposed on Hong Kong as a result of months of massive and occasionally violent democracy rallies.
On Saturday, Judge Kwok Wai-kin declared that the activists’ booths in congested places had been “popular” with onlookers and represented a “deliberate challenge” to the security regulations.
“Although there is no evidence of anyone being incited, the nature of the offence is preventative so this fact will not reduce the defendants’ criminality,” Kwok said.
Former group convenor Wong Yat-chin, age 21, received a three-year prison term, while secretary Chan Chi-sum, age 21, received a two-year, ten-month sentence.
Chu Wai-ying, 19, received a 2.5-year sentence.
Wong Yuen-lam, 20, a fourth defendant, was given a term of up to three years in a juvenile detention centre.
The leaflets distributed at seven street booths operated over an eight-month period that included appeals to disregard anti-epidemic regulations and to get ready for a future revolution were highlighted by the judge as evidence of subversion.
In once-outspoken Hong Kong, street booths with politicians and activists brandishing megaphones were a regular sight, but they have all but vanished as China puts down on dissent and remakes the city in its own authoritarian image.
John Lee, the leader of Hong Kong, has argued in the past that it is wrong to imply that the city prosecutes “speech crimes” because people are evaluated based on their deeds as well as their words.
Over half of the 210 individuals detained under the national security statute as of last month had been charged.