Critics cry foul as 'Umbrella movement' leaders jailed

Joshua Wong

In an emotional but expected postscript to the 2014 Occupy Movement, the Court of Appeal on Thursday sentenced three student leaders who kicked off the 79-day pro-democracy protests to prison sentences of six to eight months after government prosecutors sought harsher punishment for the young activists.

Following the 2014 protests, Wong and Law formed the democracy party Demosisto, which calls for a referendum in which Hong Kongers decide what form the region's government would take after 2047. Taking into account the community service they have already performed, the three will spend 6, 8, and 7 months in prison respectively. Hong Kong is governed under the "One Country, Two Systems" model, which has allowed it to maintain a high degree of autonomy.

"See you soon", he added.

As he was led from the dock, Wong raised one fist into the air.

Wong and Chow were found guilty previous year of unlawful assembly, while Law was found guilty of inciting people to take part in the assembly.

The former British colony, which has been governed under a "one country, two systems" formula since it was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, was rocked by almost three months of mostly peaceful street occupations in late 2014, demanding Beijing grant the territory full democracy.

A three-judge panel on Thursday chose to stiffen those sentences and send all three to prison. Also jailed on similar charges was student leader Alex Chow, 26, who was given 8 months. "They are absolutely delightful", he said.

Protesters called for the implementation of full democracy in Hong Kong and for the territory's right to self-determination - demands that alarmed both local authorities and officials in Beijing.

China is accused of tightening its grip in semi-autonomous Hong Kong and is extremely sensitive to challenges from areas it considers to be part of its territory, including self-ruling Taiwan which it sees as a renegade province to be brought back into its fold. But many residents and analysts fear China's communist leaders are backtracking on their promises. "Some people use the pursuit of an excuse to take illegal action", the judgement said.

Ahead of Thursday's ruling, a tearful crowd of about 100 gathered in the lobby of the court building, chanting support for the student leaders, while pro-Beijing groups demonstrated outside, public broadcaster RTHK reported.

The jail terms will curtail the political ambitions of the trio, barring them for running for seats in the legislature for the next five years. Law, who had become Hong Kong's youngest ever elected legislator, was sacked from his seat last month. Wong, 20, has also spoken of his desire to stand for election but is still too young.

"People united will never be defeated", Wong told a huge throng of media outside the courthouse, flanked by his co-defendants.

The jail sentences mark the climax in a sustained effort by the Hong Kong government since the end of the Occupy protests to punish political activists.

"The court has a responsibility to send out a clear message to society, that in activities such as rallies, marches and protests, when rights are freely exercised, participants must abide by the law", the judgement said.

If the activists are handed jail sentences of more than three months, they will not be eligible to run for political office in Hong Kong for five years.

Wong had been girding for such a possibility and tweeted earlier to his followers that they shouldn't abandon the movement.

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