Three of Hong Kong’s most influential activists were sentenced Thursday to six to eight months in prison for their roles in the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests, a major setback for the city’s democracy movement.
The court issued the new, harsher sentences for Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law after prosecutors appealed lighter penalties handed down last year. Wong and Law were initially sentenced to community service, while Chow received a suspended sentence.
Some in the semiautonomous city saw the government’s appeal as evidence of Beijing’s creeping influence on Hong Kong courts. They now worry that the longer sentences signal a renewed crackdown on the pro-democracy camp, particularly its young leaders.
Wong, 20, will now spend six months in prison, while Law, 24, and Chow, 26, were sentenced to eight and seven months, respectively. The ruling came a day after 13 young campaigners were sentenced, also on appeal, to 13 months in prison for storming the city’s legislative assembly in June 2014.
“This is a watershed moment for Hong Kong. It now has political prisoners,” said Maya Wang, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong. “For anyone thinking of protesting, the prospect of a harsh jail sentence will now loom over them.”
Mabel Au, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said, “The relentless and vindictive pursuit of student leaders using vague charges smacks of political payback by the authorities.”
Since Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, the city’s democracy movement has been fighting hard to protect the rights and freedoms guaranteed under “one country, two systems” and to fight for genuine universal suffrage. Each year, however, it becomes clearer that their vision is at odds with Beijing’s plans.
In the fall of 2014, anger over a government “white paper” on Hong Kong led to protests that grew into the Umbrella Movement, a dramatic, 79-day occupation of the heart of the city.
The months-long demonstration ended without a significant concession from Hong Kong’s leaders or their allies in Beijing. And in the years since, the central government has moved to tighten, not loosen, its grip on the former British colony.