Pro-Democracy Activists Avoid Jail Time For 2014 Hong Kong Protests
Three student leaders avoided jail time for their part in weeks-long demonstrations that brought Hong Kong to a standstill nearly two years ago.
Joshua Wong and Nathan Law were sentenced on Monday to community service for their part in the Umbrella Movement demonstrations. A third activist, Alex Chow, received a suspended prison sentence so that he could embark on graduate studies, The Associated Press reports.
The three were found guilty last month of breaking into and occupying a fenced-off courtyard beside Hong Kong's government complex on the evening of Sept. 26, 2014, over Beijing's insistence on selecting candidates for the territory's next chief executive.
Wong emerged early on as a public face of pro-democracy protests, The BBC reports, with his arrest — along with that of Law and Chow — providing a catalyst for the Umbrella Movement's formation, the AP goes on to say:
"They and dozens of other young activists were detained by police. In response, crowds of demonstrators flooded the area over the weekend to demand their release. Police responded late on Sunday Sept. 28 with dozens of volleys of teargas, a move that backfired and drove even more people on to the streets, kickstarting what became known as the Umbrella Movement protests."
Rallies and demonstrations lasted for approximately 11 weeks, with mostly youthful protesters glutting many of the city's major thoroughfares and public spaces.
For his part, Wong was given 80 hours of community service for unlawful assembly, Reuters reports. Law was found guilty of inciting others to unlawful assembly and given 120 hours.
Only Chow received any jail time — three weeks — but his sentence is being suspended so he can attend school in the United Kingdom.
The news service reports that the sentencing judge in the case considered the defendants' actions to be motivated by personal beliefs rather than benefit:
" 'The court believes the three defendants are expressing their views and demands genuinely out of their political beliefs or their concern for society,' said district court judge June Cheung.
" 'Their aim and motive is not for their own interest or to hurt other people.' "
The United Kingdom handed over control of Hong Kong to China in 1997, with an agreement that former colony would receive a high degree of autonomy. Since then, Hong Kong has been allowed to maintain its own currency and more capitalistic economic system, but Beijing has refused to grant full democratic control to the territory, raising tensions between Hong Kong and the mainland government, as The Two-Way reported during the protests:
"Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement has been active since before the 1997 handover, and in June, activists from the Occupy Central movement held an unofficial (and unauthorized) referendum, including open elections for chief executive. In a major embarrassment to Beijing, the referendum garnered 800,000 votes.
"That same month, Beijing released a policy paper saying the territory does not enjoy 'full autonomy; and that the central government must maintain' comprehensive jurisdiction over all local administrative regions,' including Hong Kong."
Following Monday's sentencing, Wong, Law and Chow spoke outside the courthouse. Chow said the judge's statement carries a "timely warning," according to Reuters, which adds:
" 'The authorities should consider why so many people are raising these options. What is the motivation, stance and reasons behind them?'
"An upcoming legislative election that will be contested by Law and other young activists seeking to enter mainstream politics for the first time is likely to further expose underlying strains in the city of 7.2 million.
" 'I was really worrying about whether I would be sentenced to imprisonment and that it would affect my election campaign,' Law said."
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