Teenage Hong Kong protest leader found guilty of unlawful assembly

Student leaders (from L) Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow wait before their verdict. Photograph:( Reuters )

AFP Hong Kong Jul 21, 2016, 06.42 AM (IST)

A Hong Kong court on Thursday found three student leaders of pro-democracy protests guilty of charges related to the demonstrations which paralysed many streets of the Chinese-ruled city in 2014.

Joshua Wong and Alex Chow were found guilty of unlawful assembly and Nathan Law was found guilty of inciting others to scale a fence in front of a Hong Kong government building complex in the run-up to the protests.

Wong was found not guilty of incitement. The men said they had not yet decided whether they would appeal. Sentencing will be on Aug. 15.

"We believe we have done something right and will not regret it," Law told reporters after the charges were read out.

The 79-day "Occupy Central" street demonstrations crippled parts of Hong Kong and were one of the boldest populist challenges to Beijing's Communist Party leaders in decades.

Hong Kong is technically part of China but governed by separate laws under a "one country, two systems" framework agreed with the British when it was handed back from colonial rule in 1997.

Relations between the two have frayed in the year and a half since the end of the protests.

At the time, police used tear gas, pepper spray and batons to deter the activists who were demanding - but ultimately failed to obtain - open nominations in the city's next chief executive election.

The charges against the student activists have been seen as a potential flashpoint that could anger more radical protesters or turn the students into political martyrs at a time of increasing friction between the financial hub and Beijing.

There were no immediate protests outside the court but another student activist, Billy Fung, was arrested on Wednesday night on suspicion of criminal intimidation, criminal damage and forcible entry in connection with disrupting a Hong Kong University council meeting in January, police said.

Fung and others believed there had been political interference in the appointment of the new council chairman.

Last week, the Hong Kong government and the Electoral Affairs Commission sparked anger when they said candidates for September's Legislative Council elections, who this year include pro-democracy and independence activists, must sign a declaration that Hong Kong is an "inalienable" part of China and that advocating and promoting independence could render them ineligible.