Three of the most visible leaders of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement have been sentenced to jail time for their roles in the series of massive pro-democracy protests in 2014. The sentences announced Thursday, which range from six months to eight months, revise previous, lighter penalties handed down last year and effectively bar the men from holding office for the next five years.
Joshua Wong, the young man — just 17 at the time of the protests — who became the face of the movement, remained defiant as he was transported from the courtroom by law enforcement.
“They can silence protests, remove us from the legislature and lock us up. But they will not win the hearts and minds of Hongkongers,” Wong tweeted. “You can lock up our bodies, but not our minds! We want democracy in Hong Kong. And we will not give up.”
“See you soon,” he added.
Wong, now 20, and fellow activist Nathan Law, 24, had been sentenced last year to community service for breaking into and occupying a space barred from public gatherings. That illegal act, “unlawful assembly,” helped spark more than two months of protests against what many Hong Kongers saw as Beijing’s encroachment on the semiautonomous city’s politics.
Now, Wong and Law have been sentenced to six and eight months in prison, respectively. For his role in the 2014 protests, Alex Chow, whose age has been reported as 26 and 27, initially received a suspended prison sentence, which was revised upward on Thursday to seven months. They plan to appeal the verdict.
The judges who sentenced the trio of activists said the case demonstrates “an unhealthy trend in Hong Kong society,” which was returned by the British to Chinese sovereignty two decades ago.
“Some people use the pursuit of ideals … as an excuse to take illegal action,” Judge Wally Yeung wrote, according to Reuters. “This case is a prime example of the aforementioned unhealthy trend.”
But critics see the new sentences as an indication of China’s undue influence over the Hong Kong judiciary — and as examples of another kind of unhealthy trend in the financial hub: Beijing’s “vindictive attack on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
“The relentless and vindictive pursuit of student leaders using vague charges smacks of political payback by the authorities,” Mabel Au, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said in a statement Thursday.
“The real danger to the rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Hong Kong is the authorities’ continued persecution of prominent democracy activists.”
And many supporters of Wong and his two fellow activists agree. As the prison vans carried them away, a throng of people crowded around, jostling officials and chanting slogans in their defense.
“We’re all Nathan Law! We’re all Joshua Wong! We’re all Alex Chow!” they shouted, according to a reporter with the South China Morning Post. “We want genuine universal suffrage!”