Hong Kong saw massive pro-democracy rallies sweeping its streets in 2014. Now, the three Hong Kong student leaders, who were charged with sparking the protests, have been spared jail time after the court decided not to base its sentence on the heated “political atmosphere” that surrounds the case.
Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow were charged for unlawful assembly after storming into a fenced-off area in front of government headquarters called “Civic Square” in September, 2014. Their attempt to stage a sit-in resulted in a standoff with the police, which in turn triggered Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Movement.”
Following their arrest, mass protests broke out on the streets of the financial hub, lasting for over two months. When the police used tear gas to break up these gatherings, the protesters used umbrellas to protect themselves, giving the movement its name.
Hong Kong has been under Chinese administration since 1997 when the British withdrew from the city. The terms of this transfer of power stated that China would have absolute control while the city retained a reasonable amount of autonomy. Communist Beijing refuses to grant the full autonomy that Hong Kong is protesting for.
Wong, 19, is one of the biggest faces of this movement, was given 80 hours of community service. Chow, 25, was sentenced to three weeks in prison. However, he was granted a reprieve to complete his graduate studies in the United Kingdom. Law, 23, was found guilty of inciting others to unlawful assembly, and given a higher sentence of 120 hours of community service.
Magistrate June Cheung considered the defendants’ lack of a previous criminal record before sentencing them. “The court believes the three defendants are expressing their views and demands genuinely out of their political beliefs or their concern for society,” said Cheung, according to Reuters.
Cheung also said it would be “unfair to the defendants if a deterrent sentence is imposed based on the political atmosphere.”
Wong and Law recently founded a new political party — Demosisto — to campaign for self-determination for the city. Law is also a candidate for Hong Kong’s upcoming legislative council elections.
“I was really worrying about whether I would be sentenced to imprisonment and that it would affect my election campaign,” Reuters reported Law saying.
Following the protests that were dubbed as one of the biggest political challenges to Beijing’s power in decades, a number of young and disillusioned citizens are demanding that Hong Kong separate itself from China entirely.