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20 Hong Kong Activists Guilty of Contempt in 2014 Protests

Former student leader Lester Shum, center, one of the activists found guilty of contempt of court, speaks to media at the High Court in Hong Kong, Friday, Oct. 13, 2017.

A Hong Kong court on Friday convicted 20 activists, including prominent student leader Joshua Wong, for defying authorities trying to clear a protest site during massive 2014 pro-democracy demonstrations in the Chinese-controlled city.

A High Court judge found the group guilty of criminal contempt of court for failing to comply with a court order to vacate a protest camp on a busy Kowloon street as they blocked major thoroughfares during the 79-day "Umbrella Movement" protests.

Wong, who has already been imprisoned in a separate case, and 10 others earlier admitted to the charge while nine others pleaded not guilty.

In a court summary of the verdict for the nine who pleaded not guilty, Judge Andrew Chan said, "The court has no doubt that the respondents' actions amounted to a serious interference with the administration of justice."

Sentencing was expected later. Under Hong Kong law, there is no maximum penalty for contempt, with the sentencing range subject to case law and legal precedents.

The ruling came the same day Wong turned 21 and supporters gathered outside a packed courtroom to sing him "Happy Birthday." The activist, who rose to global fame for his part in leading the 2014 protests while still a teenager, was sent back to prison, where he will be moved to an adult ward.

In August, Wong and two other student leaders were given prison sentences of six to eight months after the justice secretary requested the courts review their earlier, more lenient sentences for unlawful assembly related to the protests. The move sparked fears that authorities were undermining the city's independent judiciary.

Activists said the case is the latest sign that authorities are clamping down on dissent in Hong Kong. The city was promised wide autonomy after its 1997 handover from Britain to China but residents increasingly fear Beijing is tightening its grip.

Lester Shum, another student leader convicted Friday, said after the ruling that "more and more political prosecutions will be forthcoming" under Hong Kong's Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam.