Pro-democracy legal scholar Benny Tai said on Tuesday that he thinks the judge who sentenced localist Edward Leung to six years in jail this week for rioting had put too much emphasis on social order and he sensed a strong "pro-order" mentality in her judgement.
Tai said he was not suggesting the judge had made a mistake in sentencing, but warned that the "harsh" punishments for activists such as Leung could backfire.
The Hong Kong University professor, who is awaiting trial for his involvement in the 2014 Occupy movement, said judges have the discretion to consider the social background to each case and allow activists room to continue with their cause.
He said he was unhappy this did not happen in Leung's case.
"I want to ask why, and whether it would be wise, to use the law now to suppress all this dissatisfaction with the existing order without dealing with the reasons why the people rise up to go against the existing order," Tai said.
"If that can not be addressed, I can foresee that there may be more conflicts in the future. Mere suppression will not be able to solve the problem."
Giving a talk at the Foreign Correspondents' Club, Tai said he now believes there is no hope for the SAR to achieve genuine democracy.
He said the government is using "the authoritarian rule of law" to counter the city's democratic movement.
"The power-holders now have the power to make the law, to interpret the law and to implement the law. So even if we have an independent judiciary, the most important function of law now is to maintain social order, even at the cost of granting arbitrary powers to the government, even at the cost of the fundamental rights of Hong Kong citizens."
Tai's outspoken views recently enraged Beijing and SAR officials after he said at a forum in Taiwan that Hong Kong could consider independence in the future, should China ever become a democracy.