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Hong Kong protest leaders, including Joshua Wong, escape jail time for rally
Agence France Presse - August 15, 2016
Tensions are high as fears grow that China is closing its grip on semi-autonomous Hong Kong and observers had said a harsh sentence on the three popular young campaigners could lead to a backlash.
Their conviction last month in the highest profile court case to emerge from the pro-democracy movement was slammed by rights group Amnesty International, which described it as an intimidation tactic and a "chilling warning" to the city's activists.
However, magistrate June Cheung said the three defendants – Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow – had no previous criminal records, were concerned about social issues and passionate about politics.
"They turned it into action," she said. "The court believes the case is different from an ordinary criminal case. I accept they were genuinely expressing their views."
Ms Cheung added it would be "unfair to the defendants if a deterrent sentence is imposed based on the political atmosphere".
Wong, 19, and Law, 23, were given community service over the protest, which saw students climb over a fence into forecourt of the government complex in the heart of the city, known as Civic Square. The third activist, Alex Chow, 25, was given a suspended three-week sentence.
All three were facing possible two-year jail sentences when they appeared at district court on Monday morning. The defendants praised Ms Cheung for her leniency.
"The court has taken the view that the umbrella movement and entering Civic Square was not for personal gain but public good," Wong said.
Law added it showed the three had been acting for "justice, benefits of society and people's civil liberties". "She sent a message that such rights should be respected," Law said.
Their arrests for the Civic Square protest in September 2014 sparked wider rallies that erupted two days later when police fired tear gas on the growing crowds.
That galvanised more than two months of mass demonstrations by tens of thousands of residents, calling for fully free leadership elections for the city – but despite the huge turnout, Beijing refused to grant any concessions.
The umbrellas used by protesters to protect themselves from tear gas and pepper spray gave the movement its name.