Three of the seven police officers, Police Constable Lau Hing-pui (front L), Wong Wai-ho (R) and Chan Siu-tan (back), charged in connection with the beating of a protester during Occupy Central pro-democracy demonstrations, arrive at a court in Hong Kong, China February 14, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip(reuters_tickers)
By Katy Wong
HONG KONG (Reuters) - A Hong Kong court sentenced seven policemen to two years jail on Friday for beating a handcuffed pro-democracy activist during mass democracy protests in 2014, a rare case of police brutality in the financial hub that triggered public outrage.
The trial centred on an incident on Oct. 15, 2014, at the height of the 79-day protests that paralysed parts of Hong Kong and posed one of the most serious political challenges to Communist Party leaders in Beijing for decades.
The policemen were filmed dragging the handcuffed protester, Ken Tsang, to a dark corner near the protest site, where he was kicked and punched repeatedly as he lay on the ground.
District court judge David Dufton, who had earlier found the men guilty of guilty of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, sentenced all seven officers to two years imprisonment, saying the officers had "damaged" the reputation of the Hong Kong police force because the assault had been widely viewed around the world, and that there was no justification for the attack.
Despite pleas for mitigation from the officers' lawyers, Dufton said imprisonment was appropriate. Dufton acknowledged, however, that the "Hong Kong police were working under great pressure" to maintain order during the "Umbrella movement" protests that blocked major roads for almost three months.
Some of the policemen, dressed in dark suits and ties, were stern faced while others smiled to their family members in the gallery after sentencing. Some in the gallery cried, while a few people cheered.
It wasn't immediately clear if the officers would appeal against their sentences.
Tsang, a social worker, suffered face, neck and shoulder injuries. He was handcuffed with plastic zip ties at the time of the beating, although the court heard he had earlier thrown some liquid at police.
Two senior officers among the seven convicted had not taken part in the assault directly, Dufton said earlier, but should have been duty-bound "to prevent the commission of a crime, even by fellow police officers". Instead, they had encouraged the others to carry out "unlawful personal violence" on Tsang.
Heavy-handed policing is rare in Hong Kong and the case triggered public outrage and deepened tension during the protests in which clashes erupted occasionally.
Hong Kong reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that accords the city a degree of autonomy and freedom not enjoyed in mainland China.
China bristles at dissent, however, especially over issues such as demands for universal suffrage.
Many in Hong Kong are increasingly concerned about what they see as Beijing's meddling in the city's affairs. Unease about its future has stoked protests and has even led to calls for independence from China.
(Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Paul Tait)