Joshua Wong Vows to Continue Fighting For Democracy After Hong Kong Court Convicts Umbrella Movement Organizers

Joshua Wong arrives at Hong Kong International Airport on October 5, 2016 in Hong Kong. Wong on Tuesday vowed to continue fighting for Democracy after Hong Kong courts convicted nine "Umbrella Movement" organizers. Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images

Hong Kong pro-Democracy activist Joshua Wong vowed to continue fighting after nine leading members of the autonomous territory's "Umbrella Movement" were convicted Tuesday on public nuisance charges for their role in mass civil disobedience protests pushing for self-determination in 2014.

Spurred by outrage over the Chinese government's decision to only allow a list of candidates pre-approved by Beijing in elections, the 2014 Umbrella Movement—otherwise known as Occupy Hong Kong—lasted for 79 days, drew over 100,000 people and led to the standstill of the city's business hub. Among the nine defendants found guilty on Tuesday were Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, three prominent activists widely-considered as lead organizers of the movement.

The verdict came almost two years after Joshua Wong, a student activist who was just 17 when he became the face of the protest, and two other young demonstrators were jailed for leading the occupation. A dozen lawmakers—Republicans and Democrats—from the U.S. Congress, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), nominated Wong for the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his role in the movement.

Speaking to Newsweek after the ruling on Tuesday, Wong condemned the "outdated, colonial-era" decision which he claims has turned a "semi-democratic city into a semi-authoritarian city."

"I am totally disappointed with the government's decision to prosecute leaders of the Umbrella Movement with their colonial-era, outdated, criminal charges," the 22-year-old activist said. "I am disappointed with the public nuisance charges, which has already been criticized by the United National Human Rights Council."

Though the defendants now face up to seven years in prison, the young activist vowed that the verdict would not deter the group from continuing their fight for political reform and self-determination in Hong Kong.

"After the sentencing, we plan to organize large-scale protests to mobilize the general public in Hong Kong [in our fight for] Democracy," Wong, who had already served one year in prison, said. "No matter what happens [during the sentencing], we will continue to work hard to mobilize people."

Beijing promised Hong Kong's citizens a degree of self-governance after the British returned the territory to China in 1997. The arrangement—described as "one country, two systems"—was touted as one that would guarantee Hong Kong universal suffrage. However, decades-later the pseudo-democratic system still only allows citizens to vote from a list of candidates pre-approved by the mainland.

Since 2014, more than a dozen activist leaders and pro-democracy politicians have been jailed for igniting the movement for electoral freedom through lingering court cases that have drained momentum from the activists' cause. These harsher measures taken by the Communist Party signify a push to prevent further uprisings.

International human rights groups have widely-criticized Beijing and Hong Kong officials with some calling for the city to reverse their decision. "Hong Kong courts, by labeling peaceful protests in pursuit of rights as public nuisance, are sending a terrible message that will likely embolden the government to prosecute more peaceful activists, further chilling free expression in Hong Kong," Maya Wang, senior China researcher at the Human Rights Watch, said in a statement to Newsweek on Tuesday,

On the fourth anniversary of the Umbrella Movement last September, Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute, told Newsweek that the irony is that this "hard-handed approach" is exactly what caused the radicalization of the territory's youth in the first place.

"Young people have been radicalized because they feel like they may just as well ask for the impossible since they will not be given what would be legitimate," Tsang said. "[The Communist Party of China] definitely wants to nip in the bud anything in Hong Kong that resembles a move in the direction toward independence. They also want to make sure the people in Hong Kong are all being taught a good lesson so they learn to behave as the government expects them to."