HONG KONG — A Hong Kong court has sentenced democracy activists to prison terms of up to 16 months for their roles in demonstrations that led to a 79-day occupation of major roads in 2014.
The protests five years ago demanded more open elections, and sought to force Hong Kong’s leader to step down. Tens of thousands of people joined sit-ins and peaceful street demonstrations, using umbrellas to shield themselves when the police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowds. The demonstrations came to be known as the Umbrella Movement.
Two professors, Benny Tai and Chan Kin-man, and a retired pastor, Chu Yiu-ming, who were convicted this month of public nuisance charges, were sentenced to 16 months in prison. The sentence of Mr. Chu, 75, was suspended for two years because of his age. Mr. Tai and Mr. Chan were ordered to begin their sentences immediately.
They were founders of Occupy Central With Love and Peace, a group championing nonviolent civil disobedience in pursuit of democratic reforms. Their group had called for a short sit-in of two or three days, but that turned into a much longer occupation of city streets after the police used tear gas and pepper spray on student protesters.
In a summary of the judgment, Judge Johnny Chan of the District Court said the demonstrations had resulted in “unreasonable” obstruction, and so the leaders had forfeited the legal protections of peaceful demonstration.
“The court held that a charge of conspiracy to cause public nuisance would not generate a chilling effect in society and silence many legitimate speeches as the defendants contend,” the summary read.
Images of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution
For nine days, waves of pro-democracy protests engulfed Hong Kong, swelling at times to tens of thousands of people and raising tensions with Beijing.
Amnesty International said in an earlier report that the “vague and ambiguous charges” and delays in prosecution were having a chilling effect on the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly.
Six other defendants were convicted on related public nuisance charges. They are Tanya Chan and Shiu Ka-chun, both current lawmakers; Lee Wing-tat, a former lawmaker; Tommy Cheung and Eason Chung, who were student leaders; and Raphael Wong, a member of the League of Social Democrats, a pro-democracy party.
The sentence of Ms. Chan, the current lawmaker, was adjourned until June 10 because she had to undergo a major operation.
The activists said after the verdict that they were honored to serve in the movement and that, despite their convictions, they did not regret their involvement. Some of their lawyers asked for a sentence of community service rather than prison time.
“We need to understand that the powerful collude within the political economy, and to find the right spot and hammer on it relentlessly,” Mr. Chung, the 26-year-old former student leader, said in a court statement before the sentencing that was translated from Chinese by Hong Kong Free Press. “There are no saints to follow on this journey.”
Mr. Chung did not ask for a community service order.
Mr. Tai and Mr. Chan, who were also convicted of incitement to commit public nuisance, said they would not ask for reduced sentences, instead asking the court not to give a jail sentence to Mr. Chu, who is in poor health.
In his own court statement, Mr. Chu, who helped activists escape from China following the deadly 1989 crackdown on demonstrations around Tiananmen Square, described himself as a “bell toller” in the Umbrella Movement.
Three student protest leaders, Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law, were given prison sentences of six to eight months in 2017. Hong Kong’s highest court overturned those sentences last year, but also upheld tougher sentencing for future offenses.