A former member of a Hong Kong independence group who is now missing was jailed on Friday for possession of explosives during pro-democracy protests that swept through the financial center nearly two years ago.
Louis Lo, 29, pleaded guilty to storing TATP, a powerful explosive discovered during a police raid on an industrial building in July 2019. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
At the time of the raid, Hong Kong was rocked by huge and often violent protests calling for greater democracy and police accountability.
China has rejected the protests and responded with a broad crackdown on dissent in the troubled city.
Lo was a member of the Hong Kong National Front, a small fringe group that advocated independence and has since disbanded.
At the time, police said they discovered a homemade explosives lab during the raid where Lo was arrested, along with around a kilogram of TATP.
TATP requires skill to manufacture, but has been used in a number of major terrorist attacks, including the bombings in London in 2005 and on hotels and churches in Sri Lanka in 2019.
Books and leaflets advocating independence were also found in Lo’s possession.
Upon sentencing, High Court Judge Andrew Chan described Lo as the “mastermind” of the explosives lab.
“This tribunal doesn’t know what the TATP was for, but again, I know it has the capacity to inflict very serious damage to the life and property of the general public,” Chan said.
“This court would be failing in its duty to the public if it did not impose a very heavy and dissuasive sentence,” he added.
In the 2019 protests, huge crowds of hundreds of thousands marched for democracy.
Violent clashes between protesters and riot police escalated over the months.
Towards the later stages, police said they found a handful of explosive devices.
Also read: “Wuhan virus” and the difficulties of being a pro-Chinese lawmaker in Hong Kong
While independence has only been a marginal political point of view in Hong Kong since the city’s handover to China in 1997, popular protest slogans such as “Free Hong Kong, revolution of our time.” were seen by Beijing as an unacceptable challenge.
Last year, China imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong banning anything deemed to be subversion, secession, collusion, and terrorism.
The broad wording and application of the law stifled dissent, and large numbers of opposition figures were arrested or at large.
Almost all of those charged under the law to date are being prosecuted for holding political views now considered illegal.