Hong Kong jailings could lend democracy cause greater legitimacy

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A Hong Kong appeals court yesterday jailed three leaders of the territory's pro-democracy "Umbrella movement" for six to eight months, dealing a blow to the youth-led push for universal suffrage and prompting accusations of political interference. Law was sentenced to eight months, Chow to seven and Wong to six.

Wong and Law were originally given community service orders, and Chow a three-week suspended jail sentence, last year.

However, last October, the Hong Kong Department of Justice requested a review arguing the sentences were too lenient and the accused did not feel "true remorse".

The Umbrella trio were found guilty a year ago on unlawful assembly charges for storming a fenced-off government forecourt known as "Civic Square" as part of a protest calling for fully free leadership elections in September 2014.

Activists say the case is more proof that Beijing is tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city.

The trio came to prominence during the so-called "Umbrella Movement" protests in 2014 which posed the biggest challenge to China's communist government since Hong Kong was returned from Britain in 1997.

Law, who had been Hong Kong's youngest ever directly elected politician, before he was removed from office earlier this year over the manner in which he took his oath, appealed to their supporters to continue the campaign.

Then just 17, he spearheaded the mass Umbrella Movement protests, which were a reaction to restrictions from Beijing on how Hong Kong's next leader would be chosen.

They face a maximum three years in jail.

According to report given by Juliana Liu in Hong Kong, it says that the "rights groups" have criticized the Hong Kong government, saying the appeals were political decisions meant to deter future protests and that it keeps young people out of elected politics.

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The three judges at the appeals court were in agreement that tougher sentences were warranted to deter unlawful protests. Wong said he was "mentally prepared" for jail time, and before entering the courtroom today (link in Chinese), rallied his supporters: "Those of us going to jail haven't given up... the people outside of jail have no reason to give up".

Anyone sentenced to more than three months in prison is barred from running for the legislature or district councils for five years.

The former British colony, which has been governed under a "one country, two systems" formula since it was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, was rocked by almost three months of mostly peaceful street occupations in late 2014, demanding Beijing grant the city full democracy. I hope people will realize that.

During the protests he was the leader of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, a university-student group at the helm of the movement.

It added that the activists had shown "disorderly and intimidating behavior", and were convicted "not because they exercised their civil liberties but because their relevant conduct in the protest broke the law".

The Department of Justice dismissed claims that the appeals were politically motivated in any way, and said that the trio broke the law due to their "disorderly and intimidating behaviour".

"The relentless and vindictive pursuit of student leaders using vague charges smacks of political payback by the authorities", Au said.

After the sentences were read, Wong shouted: "Hongkongers, do not give up!" as he was escorted away, the report said.

Chow's father said he supported his son.

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