Hong Kong man sentenced to almost 6 years in prison in alleged plot to bomb court buildings

HONG KONG (AP) — A Hong Kong man was sentenced Thursday to almost six years in prison for alleged involvement in a foiled plot mostly by high school students to bomb court buildings following 2019 anti-government protests. Three other defendants younger than 21 were sentenced to rehabilitation, while the sentencing of two others was postponed.

Prosecutors said Alexander Au, 21, and the five others planned to manufacture explosives and target court buildings. They said the plot was foiled due to a police investigation, and no bombs were made and no casualties occurred.

Though the six are not among the most prominent activists in Hong Kong's suppressed democracy movement, their case has drawn attention because they were all students when the prosecution began in 2021 and they were charged with conspiracy to carry out terrorist activities under the National Security Law.

Earlier this month, Au and four defendants aged between 17 and 20 pleaded guilty to conspiring to cause explosions that were likely to endanger life and property, an alternative to the terrorism charge that falls under a separate law. The remaining defendant, Ho Yu-wang, 19, pleaded guilty to the terrorism charge.

Ho was described as one of the plot masterminds. Judge Alex Lee said at Thursday's sentencing that the plot would have worsened the social situation in Hong Kong had it materialized and could have caused casualties.

Lee sentenced Au to five years and eight months, saying he was more culpable since he was involved in renting a room in a guesthouse for making explosives and inspecting targeted buildings with Ho.

The three defendants who were younger than 21 and had relatively minor roles will be sent to rehabilitation-focused training centers, Lee said. They could be held for up to three years, but the length of their stays will depend on authorities' evaluation of their conduct.

The sentencing hearing of Ho and the remaining defendant was postponed to September.

While Lee was handing down the penalties, two of the defendants shook their heads slightly.

Police said they raided the guesthouse room in 2021 and seized equipment believed to be used for making explosives. They also alleged Ho had written notes saying that his goal was to destabilize Hong Kong, promote conflicts between the central government and others, and build up a resistance group.

The alleged plot also involved two other suspects whose legal proceedings are still pending.

The National Security Law that Beijing imposed on the city after the protests criminalizes acts of succession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. It has led to the arrests of many prominent activists, including activist publisher Jimmy Lai and former student leader Joshua Wong.