Joshua Wong helped lead the 2014 Umbrella Movement and was dubbed the "face of protest"
Observers say there has been a marked decrease in freedoms in Hong Kong
A Hong Kong court has jailed Joshua Wong and two other leaders of the 2014 “Umbrella Movement,” three years after they helped organize the largest pro-democracy protests ever held in the city.
Wong, 20, was sentenced to eight months in prison Thursday, reduced to six months on account of previous community service, while fellow defendants Nathan Law, 24, and Alex Chow, 26, were sentenced to 10 months, reduced to eight, and eight months, reduced to seven, respectively.
After the verdict was read out the gallery fell silent, until the judge banged his gavel to end proceedings and supporters broke out into chants of “shame” and “political persecution.”
The case marks a dramatic turnaround from 2014, when the trio helped bring out hundreds of thousands of people to the streets to call for a more direct form of democracy in the former British colony.
Wong, Law and Chow were initially given, and completed, community service sentences, but the Department of Justice appealed, arguing these were an insufficient deterrent.
Jonathan Man, the lawyer representing Law and Chow, said he wasn’t surprised by the verdict but it was “very harsh.”
He pointed out the three had already served community service sentences, and the prison terms represented a major increase in punishment.
Immediately following the verdict, Wong said on Twitter that the government “can lock up our bodies, but not our minds!”
“They can silence protests, remove us from the legislature and lock us up,” he said. “But they will not win the hearts and minds of Hong Kongers.”
Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch, described the verdict as a “nakedly calculated political prosecution.”
‘Face of protest’
The events of 2014 led Wong to be dubbed the “face of protest” by Time Magazine, an image burnished by regular appearances in the international press.
In the city itself, there was a surge in optimism as hordes of young Hong Kongers, previously written off as apathetic about politics slept in the streets for weeks on end and clashed with police to demand their rights.
The aftermath of the protests saw many new political parties formed, led by young former protesters and advocating so-called “localist” ideas spanning the gamut of greater self-determination for Hong Kong to full independence from China – an idea Beijing has angrily opposed and called for it to be controlled.
September 2016 legislative elections saw record-level turnout, as voters “thumbed their noses at Beijing” and returned a raft of localist and localist-leaning politicians, including Law, then 23, the youngest-ever person elected to the city’s parliament.