Hong Kong student leaders spared jail for pro-democracy street protests

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  • Joshua Wong and Nathan Law sentenced to community service
  • Alex Chow gets suspended jail term

Hong Kong (CNN)Two student leaders who brought tens of thousands onto Hong Kong's streets during pro-democracy protests in 2014 have been spared jail, with a local court saying they genuinely believed in their political ideals.

A magistrates' court in Hong Kong on Monday sentenced Joshua Wong to 80 hours of community service after he was convicted last month for taking part in a rally on September 26, 2014 in front of Hong Kong's Central Government Offices. The rally sparked the two-month long Occupy Central demonstrations, also known as the Umbrella Movement.
    Nathan Law was sentenced to 120 hours of community service for inciting others to take part in an unlawful assembly at that same rally.
    A third man, Alex Chow, was given a three-week jail term suspended for one year. However, unless Chow commits a criminal offense in the next year he won't spend time in jail.
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    Chow's sentence was going to be 80 hours community service but was changed because he is going abroad to study, the court said.
    "The court accepted that all three defendants expressed their opinions and demands because they genuinely believe in their political ideals and were concerned about the status of (Hong Kong) society," according to the court document issued on the sentencing.
    "Their motivation was not for their own benefit or to harm others," the document said.
    The relatively light sentences won't restrict their participation in Hong Kong politics as some had feared.
    Earlier this year, Wong launched a new political party -- Demosistō -- with the aim of winning representation in Hong Kong's decision-making body, the Legislative Council and push its pro-democracy agenda.
    At 19, Wong is too young to run for a seat himself, so 23-year-old Law is standing in next month's election.

    No regrets

    While Chow has taken a step back and shifted his focus to academics -- he is due to study in London -- Wong and Law continue to campaign for democracy in Hong Kong.
    "I do not regret any of my involvement in the Umbrella Movement," Wong told CNN last Friday.
    Both he and Law said their biggest fear is that their sentences would scare off others from making their voices heard.
    "I believe that to have social change, we need more people to come out," Law said. "I'm afraid these kinds of court cases will stop people from participating."

    Teen leader

    Wong first gained prominence in 2012 as the founder of the student group Scholarism, which helped fight off a plan to introduce "moral and national education" classes in the city.
    Many saw it as an attempt by the Communist government in Beijing to exercise greater control over Hong Kong, which is supposed to enjoy a high degree of autonomy from the mainland China -- maintaining its own political, judicial, education and economic systems.
    In 2014, Wong became the face of the Umbrella Movement, which paralyzed the city's normally booming financial district for 79 days.
    At times, up to 100,000 people gathered in the area to protest a lack democracy for Hong Kong's top post of chief executive.
    Under the current system, the position is chosen by a 1,200-member Election Commission, primarily made up of Beijing loyalists.
    "It is necessary for our party to get a legislator elected into council to gain the resources and the sustainable political power inside the institution and let us push forward (with) the self-determination movement," Wong told CNN last Friday.
    The party wants to work towards a referendum that will allow Hong Kongers to decide their future after 2047, when Mainland China is no longer bound by an agreement with Britain to allow Hong Kong to enjoy a high degree of autonomy.
    "It is not an easy time for Hong Kong. We are facing our core values being eroded," Wong said. "We just hope more and more people around the world will support the new generation and for Hong Kong to get back our own rights of universal suffrage, direct elections, freedom, human rights and democracy."