Umbrella Movement student leaders convicted but not conquered, they say

Joshua Wong, a student leader in Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement, was convicted for a protest that helped inspire the largest anti-Beijing demonstration in years.

Bobby Yip/Reuters
Student leaders (from L) Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow pose before a verdict on charges of inciting and participating in an illegal assembly in 2014, which led to the "Occupy Central" pro-democracy movement, outside a court in Hong Kong on July 21.

A student who helped lead the Umbrella Movement protests in Hong Kong, the strongest pro-democracy demonstrations against Beijing in years, has been convicted for inciting "unlawful assembly."

Joshua Wong's conviction, along with two other student protesters, highlights the Communist Party's continuing effort to solidify power by cracking down on pro-democracy movements not only on the mainland, but also in Hong Kong.

"We might need to go into prison. However, no matter what is the penalty or the price that we need to pay, we will still continue to fight against suppression from the government," Mr. Wong said after the verdict. "Facing the largest communist regime in the world, it's a long-term battle for us to fight for democracy."

The 2014 Umbrella Revolution was the largest protest against China's one-party communist rule in roughly two decades: a peaceful, student-led street movement possible under Hong Kong's civil liberties. The city of 7 million, a former British colony, is governed by different rules than the Mainland under China's "One Country, Two Systems" principle.

Amnesty International criticized the government for going after leaders of a peaceful protest movement.

"The prosecution of student leaders on vague charges smacks of political payback by the authorities," said Mabel Au, the group's  director based in Hong Kong.

Wong said he "was found guilty of the charge of participating unlawful assembly by court of Hong Kong." Sentencing is on August 15, and the trio could face up to two years in prison. They are consulting lawyers in deciding whether to file an appeal. 

Wong led other student activists to scramble over a government barricade while protesting Beijing's limits on the elections for Hong Kong's Legislative Council and Chief Executive, amid fears that the city's relative autonomy was eroding. Wong and the other students were detained, and calls for their release grew into weeks-long street protests popularly known as the Umbrella Movement.

This is only the latest charge 19-year-old Wong has faced for his leadership role in protests. In June, he was acquitted of obstructing police during a protest prior to the Sept. 2014 Umbrella Movement, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Wong's activism began at age 15, when he founded the Scholarism movement to successfully protest against Beijing-imposed changes to the national education system. Although he comes from a middle-class family, he was partly inspired by his father, who took him to poor areas of the city as a child, he told The Guardian. 

"He told me that I should care for the abandoned in the city," Wong told The Guardian. 

Wong's first protest brought 100,000 people into the streets and made him something of a celebrity, a phenomenon he rejects.

"You don't need role models to be part of a social movement as long as you care about the issues," he said, according to The Guardian.

Although he generally diverts questions about his personal involvement Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, he expects it to be a long one, he told The Christian Science Monitor in 2015. He is looking to 2047, the end date for a Chinese agreement to uphold the Basic Law, Hong Kong's constitutional document.  

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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