A court in Hong Kong has once more jailed Joshua Wong, a former student leader of the city’s 2014 pro-democracy movement, after finding him guilty of contempt of court at a trial last October.
Wong was among 16 activists found guilty of ignoring a court injunction to leave a protest area during the 2014 Occupy Central, or Umbrella movement. He was handed a three-month prison sentence.
Wong, 21, had pleaded guilty to obstructing bailiffs trying to implement the clearance of the protest site in the Kowloon suburb of Mong Kok.
According to High Court Judge Andrew Chan, anyone who decided to stand on Nathan Road, Mong Kok, during the clearance operation "knew precisely what they were doing," because it wasn't the first such action, and had been widely publicized.
Protesters were also given several warnings to leave the site by bailiffs before the operation began, calling their continued presence there "a serious interference with the administration of justice."
Judge Chan said Wong's involvement was “deep and extensive.”
The court also jailed Raphael Wong, vice-chairman of the League of Social Democrats, for four and a half months for his "active" role in obstructing court bailiffs.
Both the activists were sent to prison in spite of pleas from the activists’ defense attorneys to delay the start of their sentences.
The remainder of the activists were handed suspended jail terms, including former Occupy Central student leader Lester Shum.
'Ready to go back'
Wong, who was out on bail on public order charges linked to a separate 2014 incident, had earlier said he was ready to go back to jail.
"They can lock up our bodies, but they can't lock up our minds,” he told reporters before the sentencing hearing. “Even though we now face a prison sentence, we'll do so without fear.”
Raphael Wong said he was ready to serve his time, too.
“People who engage in civil disobedience have made full mental preparation for jail,” he told journalists. “All I can say is, I hope that the people of Hong Kong will keep up their courage, and hold fast to the spirit of the start of the Occupy Central movement.”
“We want genuine universal suffrage!” he said.
Lester Shum agreed. "The whole civil disobedience movement, including some key occupations, relied on using methods that might be regarded as illegal, and on people paying that price to win public attention, and to win over public support," he said.
"The Umbrella Movement achieved that aim, and now the decisions about the legal price we have to pay are out of our hands," Shum said.
Nathan Law, who lost his seat for the post-Occupy Central party Demosisto following a ruling by Beijing, said he was "extremely disappointed" by the prosecution of Occupy Central activists.
"It is a colossal mistake to use court orders and trials in court to try to resolve an issue that comes from a political source; namely, the failure to implement universal suffrage," Law said.
"That the government got the courts involved without resolving the systemic political issues that we currently face will be of no help at at all," he said.
The New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said at the time that the arrest and jailing of peaceful Occupy Central protesters raised concerns about Hong Kong’s adherence to international human rights standards.
Some 1,000 people were arrested in connection with the Umbrella Movement during its existence, mostly for public order offenses like "unlawful assembly," "obstructing police," "assaulting officers," and "contempt of court," the group said.
While most were quickly released, more than 160 have been charged so far under the city’s Public Order Ordinance, a body of rules governing demonstrations that has been criticized by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, HRW said.
Hong Kong was promised a “high degree of autonomy” under the terms of its 1997 handover from Britain to China, but many say the city’s traditional freedoms are now a thing of the past, as Beijing seeks to wield ever greater influence over the city’s media, publishing, and political scene.
Leaders of the 79-day civil disobedience movement rejected a Aug. 31, 2014 decree from China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), which required the vetting of candidates for the city's top job by a pro-Beijing committee, as "fake universal suffrage."
Last year, Hong Kong courts stripped six directly elected pan-democratic legislators of their seats following an NPC interpretation invalidating their oaths of allegiance to China.
Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.