3 Convicted Over Their Roles in Sprawling Hong Kong Street Protests


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Joshua Wong, left, Nathan Law, center, and Alex Chow leaving a Hong Kong court on Thursday. The three were convicted in connection with the street protests in Hong Kong that lasted 79 days in 2014 and were released on bail pending sentencing next month.

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Anthony Wallace/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

HONG KONG — Three leaders of Hong Kong’s huge student-led demonstrations in 2014 were found guilty on Thursday of charges stemming from their roles in events that set off 79 days of defiant street protests for freer elections in the self-governing Chinese territory.

Joshua Wong, 19, the bespectacled public face of the demonstrations, was found guilty of unlawful assembly, as was a fellow student leader, Alex Chow, 25. Nathan Law, 23, who is seeking to win a seat in Hong Kong’s legislature in the September elections, was found guilty of inciting people to take part in the assembly, a charge on which Mr. Wong was acquitted.

The judge, June Cheung, released the three men on bail until their sentencing, which is set for Aug. 15. They face a maximum of two years in prison, although the ultimate punishment may be considerably lighter; the judge is seeking a report from probation officers on whether community service might be a suitable alternative.

“No matter what penalty or price we need to pay, we will still continue to fight against suppression from the government,” Mr. Wong told reporters outside the Eastern Magistrates’ Courts on Thursday.

The verdicts represented the first convictions of leaders of the 2014 protest, known as the Umbrella Movement. It was prompted by the Chinese government’s decision to impose strict limits on who could run in what would be the first direct election of Hong Kong’s chief executive, requiring that all candidates be vetted by a loyalist nominating committee.

While the movement failed to bring about any political change that would allow greater citizen participation in the election’s nominating process, it has inadvertently given rise to a political force that is making a more direct challenge to China’s rule over Hong Kong.

That includes people like Mr. Wong and Mr. Law, who have formed a new political party to advocate a citywide referendum on whether Hong Kong should become independent.

“We can no longer follow the Chinese government’s rules in fighting for democracy in Hong Kong,” Mr. Law, chairman of the party Demosisto, said in an interview on Wednesday. “Our one simple goal is to protect Hong Kong’s interests and preserve its way of life from being warped under the Communist regime.”

By applying to run in the legislative elections in September, Mr. Law joins a crowded array of participants from the Umbrella Movement who are seeking to bring their calls for greater autonomy, if not independence, into Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.

On Wednesday, Beijing’s top representative in Hong Kong, Zhang Xiaoming, warned that allowing such advocacy in the city’s legislature could bring “calamity.” He also promised that the so-called one country, two systems governing principle that underpinned the return of the former British colony to Chinese rule would remain in place.

“The central government has absolutely no intention to mainlandize Hong Kong, turning it into another Shanghai, Guangzhou or Shenzhen,” said Mr. Zhang, who is the director of Beijing’s Liaison Office in the city.

But his promise is unlikely to dampen calls for constitutional changes that would give Hong Kong greater autonomy, an idea that has strong support among young Hong Kong residents. Concerns of eroding civil liberties were recently heightened by the detention of Hong Kong booksellers deemed offensive to China’s leadership.

The guilty verdict on Thursday puts Mr. Law’s candidacy in doubt, because according to Hong Kong law, a candidate is disqualified if sentenced to more than three months in prison or is in prison on the date of an election.

The charges stemmed from actions on the night of Sept. 26, 2014, at the end of a school boycott in protest of the Chinese government’s limits on voting rights, when the three led a group of students to break into a recently fenced-in square in front of the headquarters of the Hong Kong government.

The move marked the start of a series of clashes with the police that culminated in the use of tear gas, which backfired by drawing even more sympathizers to the area and spurring protests in other parts of the city that drew international attention.

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