Hong Kong 'umbrella movement' protesters jailed as China's civil liberties crackdown continues

James Morris

Hong Kong democracy protesters have been jailed for up to 16 months as China’s civil liberties crackdown on the territory continues.

Nine leaders of the huge 2014 protests were today found guilty of public nuisance offences, with the semi-autonomous Hong Kong authorities under pressure from Beijing.

The nine were among the organisers of the "Occupy Central" campaign, a peaceful sit-in that became known as the "Umbrella Movement". Protesters had demanded the right to freely nominate candidates for Hong Kong's leader.

However, they failed to win any concessions. Carrie Lam was selected in 2017 as a Beijing-approved candidate and ultimately became chief executive.

Supporters gather around a prison van carrying Occupy Central leaders Chan Kin-man, Benny Tai, Raphael Wong and Shiu Ka-chun outside a court in Hong Kong (Kin Cheung/AP)

The defendants, ranging in age from their 30s to 70s, all denied the public nuisance charges, saying the prosecutions were politically motivated.

Three were jailed for 16 months, with one having the sentence suspended for two years. Two were jailed for eight months and two were given eight-month suspended sentences.

Democracy activists are hit with a water cannon during the 2014 protests (Alex Ogle/AFP/Getty Images)

Another was ordered to do 200 hours of community service, while a ninth defendant had her sentencing postponed because she needs to have surgery.

Raphael Wong, who was jailed for eight months, told judge Johnny Chan: “Thank you for the sentencing. Our determination on fighting for genuine universal suffrage will not change.”

Thousands of people rallied in the 2014 protests (Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images)

Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the sentences were a “chilling warning” for pro-democracy activists.

She added: "The Beijing and Hong Kong authorities appear intent on eliminating the only pocket of freedoms on Chinese soil."

Pro-democracy activists Chung Yiu-wa, Lee Wing-tat, Chu Yiu-ming, Tanya Chan and Cheung Sau-yin leave the court on Wednesday (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Joshua Wong, who as a teenager rose to worldwide prominence for his part in the 2014 protests – for which he was convicted in 2017 – tweeted: “Hongkongers are in the endgame now.”

The UK handed Hong Kong over to Chinese rule in 1997, under an agreement in which China promised the territory could retain its own laws, economic system and civil rights for 50 years.