HONG KONG - Eight of the top leaders of Hong Kong’s 2014 Umbrella Movement democracy protests were sentenced to up to sixteen months in prison on Wednesday after they were found guilty of public nuisance charges earlier this month.
The trial is the last major prosecution of the Umbrella Movement leadership, which began three years ago with the prosecution of student leaders Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow.
Those sentenced on Wednesday included law professor Benny Tai, sociology professor Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, the original founders of the Occupy Movement.
Tai and Chan received sixteen months in prison while Chu received a suspended sentence due to his advanced age and lifetime of humanitarian work — including to help Tiananmen Square activists escape China in 1989 — according to Judge Johnny Chan.
The trio were singled out for conspiracy charges among the group as they were the first to call for an occupation of Hong Kong’s government district in 2013 if Beijing failed to grant the autonomous Chinese city universal suffrage in its leadership elections.
On Wednesday, Judge Chan also ruled that legislator Shiu Ka-chun and activist Raphael Wong serve eight months after they were found guilty on two public nuisance charges.
Former student activist Eason Chung and former legislator Lee Wing-tat received suspended sentences due to Chung’s age at the time of protest and Lee’s lengthy public service. Another student activist Tommy Cheung received 200 hours in community service.
A ninth defendant, pro-democracy legislator Tanya Chan, will be sentenced in six weeks after her lawyer told the court she is facing surgery for a life threatening condition.
During the sentencing, Judge Chan said the defendants failed to show regret for their actions and said the public “deserves an apology for the inconvenience caused” by the 79 day protest.
The group “failed to notice the ordinary folks who needed to use the carriageways in question, who needed to travel to work in order to make a living,” he said, when they called for protestors to occupy major roadways in Hong Kong’s busiest business and government districts.
The sentencing was attended by more than a hundred supporters, many of whom wore yellow or carried umbrellas in recognition of the protest movement.
Democracy activist and former Umbrella Movement leader Agnes Chow, who attended court, told VOA she thought the sentencing showed “Hong Kong the cost of getting involved in civil disobedience movement and social movement is higher and higher.”
“I hope that people will not only remember these nine people who are going to jail or who are having their judgment today but remember the whole Umbrella Movement that has changed the political atmosphere in Hong Kong,” she said,“[It] has made more and more Hong Kong people understand the importance of democracy.”
Chow’s comments were echoed by others on Hong Kong social media who criticized the outcome of the trial.
While sentencing concluded by Wednesday afternoon with four of the group immediately headed to prison, it may not be the end of their legal battle as some are expected to appeal.
It is also possible that the justice department could appeal the sentencing, as it did in the case of activists Wong, Law and Chow.
The three student leaders were initially given community service sentences. But in an extraordinary move the justice department appealed the verdict and they were handed jail time. The students later won on appeal.