Three Hong Kong activists were found guilty on Monday of charges related to their roles in boycotting a protest against electoral reforms in 2014 in which pro-democracy demonstrators clashed with police.
The men could be jailed for up to three years after being found guilty of “obstructing a public servant in the discharge of his duty.”
Four other defendants were acquitted.
Critics say that the trial will “destabilize” the city’s democracy movement, which has faced increasing political violence.
Beijing expressed “regret” over the court’s ruling and promised to take “necessary measures.”
“The people of Hong Kong and particularly the many people who have suffered greatly from this politically-motivated case, wish to express their dismay and deep concern,” it said in a statement.
The arrests and convictions have fueled fears among pro-democracy supporters that even though London returned the city to Chinese rule in 1997, Beijing isn’t willing to ease its tight grip on the former British colony.
The developments have also revived the old debate in Hong Kong on the principle of “one country, two systems,” which guarantees it the freedoms of speech and assembly.
Last month, the leader of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, a group that once supported the principle, asked an influential pro-Beijing newspaper for help in combating “sabotage” of the system.
Legislators, activists and civic leaders call the arrests a political smear campaign aimed at discrediting opposition democracy activists.
“This reflects that the handover was a dangerous mistake,” said liberal legislator Claudia Mo. “Hong Kong still faces heavy interference from Beijing.”
“We are an independent city, but the way Chinese political forces treat us is not independent,” Mo said.
Among those convicted of obstructing police was 18-year-old Joshua Wong, the middle-schooler who became a leading figure in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and led sometimes-violent street protests two years ago. He was accused of pushing a pro-democracy protester to the ground and blocking police by blocking the street with a barricade.
“Today’s court case is a clear indication that even though one country, two systems was never meant to be violated, that the Chinese Communist Party in charge of Hong Kong is pushing the entire political scene in the wrong direction,” Wong said on his Facebook page.
David Leung, the ex-politician who spearheaded the 2014 demonstrations, was also convicted.
Local media reported that his wife and three of his four young children were wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with “Hong Kong is not a police state” outside the courthouse when the verdict was read. They later released them, along with the protesters arrested in the incident, into a waiting car.
Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen contributed to this report.