Campaigners in Hong Kong and abroad say it is vindictive to imprison pro-democracy protestors over a sit-in. They are right

The jailing of Joshua Wong, Hong Kong’s youthful “face of protest”, and of his fellow activists Nathan Law and Alex Chow, is technically a matter of law but in reality one of politics. Two of them had already carried out community service for unlawful assembly or inciting unlawful assembly; the third had received a suspended sentence. That was not enough. They have been at the forefront of the pro-democracy movement, inspiring many more in Hong Kong to rally in defence of the greater freedoms it has enjoyed compared to the mainland under the “one country-two systems” formula. Authorities have been determined to silence these voices. By appealing against the “rather dangerous” supposed leniency of the original sentences, they have succeeded, for now.

The trio were among those who forced their way into Civic Square, just outside government offices, to hold a sit-in in 2014. Their arrests helped to spark the Umbrella Movement, an unprecedented mass act of peaceful civil disobedience which gave the lie to the belief that Hong Kong people do not care about politics or civil rights, only prosperity and stability. Many do; but young people in particular are increasingly concerned about the erosion of the region’s way of life – theoretically guaranteed until 2047, 50 years after handover, but in reality worn down at an increasing speed.

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