HONG KONG, Oct 9 (Reuters) - A Hong Kong pro-democracy activist jailed for six years for rioting in 2016 appeared in court on Wednesday to appeal against his sentence, as anti-government protests showed no signs of abating despite new emergency laws and widespread arrests.
Edward Leung, 27, one of the leaders of a movement advocating independence from China, and two other activists received the harshest sentences handed down to pro-democracy leaders since the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Leung’s court hearing could become the latest flashpoint for anti-government protesters who have staged four months of demonstrations, some massive and violent, against leader Carrie Lam’s administration.
Lam did not rule out asking Beijing for help in remarks on Tuesday as the Asian financial hub struggles to deal with protests that are damaging its economy.
Protests, which have shown no sign of abating, are expected throughout Wednesday and the coming week.
The former British colony is still recovering after a long weekend of violent protests that brought the city to a virtual standstill, with the unprecedented closure of its metro rail system, shops, ATMs, and mainland China banks.
What started as opposition to a now-withdrawn extradition bill has grown into a pro-democracy movement against what is seen as Beijing’s tightening grip on the city, which protesters say undermines a “one country, two systems” formula promised when Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule.
China dismisses such accusations, saying foreign governments, including Britain and the United States, have fanned anti-China sentiment.
The protests pose the biggest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012 and are Hong Kong’s largest political crisis since the 1997 handover.
The city’s metro operator MTR Corp, which carries about 5 million passengers a day, said on Wednesday some stations would remain closed due to damage and it would be shutting services early again at 8 p.m. (1200 GMT), more than four hours earlier than normal.
The closure of some stations on Wednesday resulted in massive queues of people waiting for shuttle buses during the morning rush hour, with some people choosing to walk kilometres to the nearest station.
MTR Corp was forced to shut down, an unprecedented move that largely paralysed transportation, after arson attacks on Friday night. There were only partial operations during the weekend and limited services through the start of the week.
The widening political sensitivities involved have been highlighted by a growing row after an executive of the U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA) team the Houston Rockets backed the protests.
One-time U.S. presidential candidate and former First Lady Hillary Clinton and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver have both since weighed in to the controversy, drawing the ire of Chinese state media.
Clinton said on her official Twitter account on Wednesday: “Every American has the right to voice their support for democracy and human rights for Hong Kong. Full stop.”
Silver spoke up for freedom of speech, saying it was not up to the NBA to regulate what players, employees and team owners said. Chinese state media responded on Wednesday by accusing the NBA of endorsing violence and peddling a “secessionist pipe dream”. (Reporting by Twinnie Siu, Donny Kwok, Marius Zaharia and Jessie Pang; Writing by Farah Master and Michael Perry; Editing by Paul Tait)