Verdicts loom for Hong Kong student leader Wong

Hong Kong student leader Joshua Wong was in court Friday for the last day of a trial over pro-democracy protests, as he faces two imminent verdicts and a possible prison sentence. Teenage Wong was at the forefront of mass rallies in 2014 which brought parts of the semi-autonomous city to a standstill as residents called on Beijing to allow fully free elections for future leaders. He has been in and out of court hearings for the past year after being charged with multiple offences linked to protests leading up to what became known as the "Umbrella Movement". Wong, now 19, has always argued that the cases against him are political persecution. Friday saw final arguments in a case where Wong and two other young protest leaders were charged over climbing into a Hong Kong government complex forecourt known as Civic Square on September 26, 2014. That protest triggered wider rallies that exploded two days later when police fired tear gas to disperse crowds. Wong faces charges of taking part in an unlawful assembly and inciting others to do so, which carry a jail term of up to five years. Defence lawyers argued that authorities should not have fenced off Civic Square -- previously a popular protest site open to the public -- in the febrile months before the Umbrella Movement. "The reason why this problem has arisen is because there are people that are not allowing them to go in," said Michael Chai, a lawyer defending Wong's fellow protester Nathan Law. "There was no damage to Civic Square...the force used was the mildest possible," added Wong's defence lawyer Randy Shek said. The prosecution argued the fact they climbed into the square was unlawful and that the protest was pre-planned. Wong did not comment Friday but has previously said he was preparing for a possible jail sentence. The verdict will be handed down on June 29. He will also face a verdict on May 23 in another case over an anti-China protest in the build-up to the pro-democracy rallies. Hong Kong is semi-autonomous after being returned to China by Britain in 1997, with much greater freedoms than seen on the mainland. But there are fears those freedoms are being eroded by increasing interference from Beijing.

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