By Lindsy Long and Hera Poon
HONG KONG (Reuters) – A Hong Kong court on Thursday found bespectacled teenage democracy activist Joshua Wong guilty of unlawful assembly related to demonstrations that paralyzed key arteries of the Chinese-ruled city in 2014.
Wong, 19, was acquitted of inciting others to join a rally that kicked off pro-democracy protests a year and a half ago, when activists scaled a fence in front of a government building complex.
“No matter what the price we need to pay, we will still continue to fight against suppression from the government,” Wong, who rose to fame at age 15 for forcing the Hong Kong government to shelve a pro-China national education scheme in schools, told reporters.
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.
Two other student leaders were also charged in connection with the rally. Alex Chow was found guilty of unlawful assembly and Nathan Law was found guilty of inciting others to join. The men said they had not yet decided whether they would appeal.
Before she announced the charges, Magistrate June Cheung Tin-ngan acknowledged that the case was politically sensitive but said the court would not be influenced and was “absolutely not the place to solve political or societal problems”.
Amnesty International Hong Kong director Mabel Au released a statement calling the charges vague and saying they smacked of political payback by the authorities.
Sentencing will be on Aug. 15.
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 for criminal intimidation, disorderly conduct in a public space, criminal damage and attempted 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.
(Reporting by Lindsy Long, Hera Poon, Sharon Shi, Venus Wu and Clare Baldwin; Editing by Nick Macfie)