Hong Kong Jails Its First Prisoners of Conscience

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Three of Hong Kong’s most influential activists, Joshua Wong, 20, Nathan Law, 24, and Alex Chow, 27, were sentenced on Aug. 17 to six- to eight-month prison terms for their roles in the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests, dealing a major blow to the territory’s youthful democracy movement.


On Sept. 26, 2014, Wong, Law and Chow led a group of students in storming a forecourt at the government headquarters to protest perceived Chinese interference in elections in Hong Kong, a special administrative region granted significant autonomy. Within days, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in a 79-day occupation known as the Umbrella Movement.


The three were convicted in summer 2016 on charges of unlawful assembly and inciting unrest and sentenced to community service. But on Aug. 17 an appeals court ruled the punishment too soft and sent them immediately to prison. The new sentences mean they will be barred from office for five years. “This is meant to be a threat,” Wong told TIME shortly before the verdict was handed down.


The jailing has been viewed by many as a warning by China that dissent in Hong Kong will no longer be tolerated and a sign that the courts, long regarded as independent, may be bowing to political pressure. With its leaders behind bars, Hong Kong’s democratic youth movement now look to their political party, Demosisto, for new life.

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