Joshua Wong, the most public face of Hong Kong’s umbrella movement demonstrations, has avoided a jail term for his role in a protest that helped launch the unprecedented 79-day political convulsion. Wong, 19, and fellow activist Alex Chow, who is 25, had been convicted last month of unlawfully entering a fenced off area outside Hong Kong’s government headquarters on 26 September 2014. A third activist, 23-year-old Nathan Law, was convicted of inciting others to take part in the action which happened just before Hong Kong was gripped by almost three months of demonstrations against Beijing’s refusal to grant democratic concessions to the territory. At the time Amnesty International denounced the verdicts as “a chilling warning for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly” in Hong Kong. On Monday a court in the former British colony stopped short of handing down jail terms to the three men.
The eastern magistrate’s court ordered Wong and Law to perform 80 and 120 hours of community service respectively, according to the Hong Kong Free Press website. Chow was given a three-week suspended jail sentence. Speaking before the verdict 19-year-old Wong said his lawyer had told him to “hope for the best and prepare for the worst”.
Human Rights Watch called for the sentences to be quashed by Hong Kong’s government. “In sentencing these students, Hong Kong authorities’ behaviour increasingly resembles that of their counterparts in Beijing,” said Sophie Richardson, the group’s China director. “Leading peaceful protests is no crime, and the charges against the three should be dropped.”
Wong earlier told ABC the activists were prepared to go to prison for their campaigning and would continue to fight for democracy in Hong Kong irrespective of Monday’s ruling. “[Since] we are involved in civil disobedience we already expected to pay a serious price,” Wong said.