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Umbrella Movement's Joshua Wong sentenced to six months' jail for illegal assembly

Sydney Morning Herald - August 17, 2017

Kirsty Needham, Beijing Joshua Wong, the school boy who led Hong Kong's youth to protest for greater democracy and occupy city streets for months in 2014 has been jailed for six months.

The harsh sentence for illegal assembly is the first prison term handed to any of the leaders of the Umbrella Movement.

"You can lock up our bodies, but not our minds! We want democracy in Hong Kong," he tweeted from court shortly after the verdict was delivered.

Wong, now 20, had originally been sentenced to community service, after being convicted last year for storming the forecourt of Hong Kong's parliament in September 2014.

Two days later, thousands of Hong Kong youth poured onto the streets to join the baby-faced schoolboy, who opposed China introducing "patriotic education" into schools.

They stayed there for 79 days, carrying simple yellow umbrellas as a shield against police tear gas. Wong had already carried out the 80 hours of community service.

But the High Court on Thursday handed down a tougher penalty, which will prevent the 20-year-old from running in Legislative Council by-elections later this year.

The Hong Kong justice department had appealed the case, claiming Wong and two other student protest leaders had shown no remorse.

Nathan Law and Alex Chow, who were earlier sentenced to community service and a suspended three-week jail sentence, respectively, over the same incident, also had these upgraded to eight months' jail and seven months' jail on Thursday.

Human Rights Watch China's Maya Wang reacted, saying: "This is a watershed moment for Hong Kong: it now has political prisoners".

At 23, Law became Hong Kong's youngest-ever elected legislator last September, only to be disqualified for insulting China as he took his oath.

Ahead of the verdict, Wong told a large crowd of supporters outside the court room that he had no regrets.

Earlier in the week, he told Time magazine he was scared, and would miss his parents. "I'm tired, and I'm scared, but I will still keep on fighting," he said.

Hong Kong is expected to hold by-elections to fill six seats vacated by disqualified pro-democratic legislators.

Wong, who formed the democracy party Demosisto with Law, had been expected to stand for election. But a prison term of three months bars a person from running for office in the Legislative Council, or district councils, for five years.

"Hong Kong authorities should never have prosecuted these three student leaders for peaceful protests in the first place," said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, this week.

"The justice department's outlandish application seeking jail time is not about public order but is instead a craven political move to keep the trio out of the Legislative Council, as well as deter future protests."

The Justice Department had said it was appealing the community service sentence because the trio had shown no remorse.

Wong and Law were among 26 young democracy protesters detained for two days in July as Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Hong Kong to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the handover from Britain to China.

The by-elections have been triggered because China's National People's Congress standing committee intervened in a Hong Kong court case in November, to rule that young democracy legislators must be disqualified for refusing to properly take their oaths.

Mainland China's standing committee is entitled to make an "interpretation" of Hong Kong law, but such an intervention is rare, and caused controversy because it came before the Hong Kong court had delivered its verdict on the oath-taking matter.

New Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam is under pressure from Beijing to take a tougher line against Hong Kong's youth democracy movement, which is more radical than the older generation of pan-democrats.

Mr Xi warned Hong Kong's young activists not to cross the "red line" in a speech on July 1.

The crowd outside the courtroom on Thursday chanted: "We want genuine universal suffrage".

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/world/umbrella-movements-joshua-wong-sentenced-to-six-months-jail-for-illegal-assembly-20170817-gxyde9.html.

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