(Vatican Radio) Three Hong Kong students have been convicted of leading the pro-democracy protest movement that brought tens of thousands of demonstrators out onto the streets of the former British colony in the autumn of 2014.
Following the convictions on Thursday, the three men were released on bail and are expected to be sentenced on August 15th, facing a possible two year prison sentence.
The court in Hong Kong convicted 19 year old Joshua Wong and fellow student leader Alex Chow of unlawfully climbing a fence and entering a restricted area outside government headquarters in September 2014.Local media here reports that a third pro-democracy activist, Nathan Law, was convicted of inciting dozens of young people, who also took part in the demonstration.
Following their arrest, thousands of people took to the streets of the city centre in a pro-democracy protest, dubbed the Umbrella Movement that lasted for almost three months. As well as demanding the release of the student leaders, they called for greater transparency and universal suffrage in the election of the city’s Chief Executive. Many fear this election process is being increasingly influenced by the Beijing government, despite guarantees set down in the Basic Law drawn up ahead of Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule.
Following the convictions, Wong said the three men do not regret what they have done and will continue their struggle, despite the prospect of prison sentences. “No matter what is the penalty or the price that we need to pay”, he said, “we will still continue” with the “long-term battle” for democracy.
The human rights group Amnesty International criticized the verdicts as “a chilling warning for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly” in this Special Administrative Region of China. Mabel Au, director of the group’s Hong Kong office, said: "The prosecution of student leaders on vague charges smacks of political payback by the authorities".
Catholic and Anglican Church leaders continue to call for dialogue and the building of trust between government and pro-democracy activists. But these tensions are likely to flare again in the autumn, when Hong Kong holds elections for its Legislative Council.
Just last week, the Hong Kong government and the Electoral Affairs Commission sparked anger by saying that candidates for the September ballot cannot support independence and must sign a declaration saying that Hong Kong is an "inalienable" part of mainland China.