Hong Kong student protest leaders turn themselves in to police

Student leader Joshua Wong (centre) being surrounded by supporters as he arrives at the police headquarters in Hong Kong on Jan 16, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Student leader Joshua Wong (centre) being surrounded by supporters as he arrives at the police headquarters in Hong Kong on Jan 16, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (AFP) - Student protest leaders including the teenage face of the pro-democracy movement, Joshua Wong, turned themselves in to police on Friday, as Hong Kong authorities target prominent figures who spearheaded mass rallies.

Police have vowed to investigate the "principal instigators" of protests for fully free leadership elections that lasted for more than two months and brought parts of the city to a standstill before rally camps were cleared in December.

Wong, 18, was one of four leaders of the Scholarism campaign group requested to attend Wan Chai police headquarters on Friday morning as part of the investigation.

The students said that they were expecting to be arrested once they handed themselves in, but had not been told details of the charges.

"The police arrests will just motivate more secondary school or university students to come to the streets," Wong said outside the station before he handed himself in.

He added that police were "irresponsible" for not specifying the charges he will face.

"I'm worried the police will try to abuse their power but I still respect the law system in Hong Kong."

Police were not able to immediately confirm what charges would be brought against the students.

Student leader Agnes Chow said she had been "scared" when she got the call from police.

"But when we think about the things we did, it was to push for a democratic system in Hong Kong, so we think it is worth it," she said.

Beijing has pledged that Hong Kong can choose its own leader for the first time in 2017 but insists on vetting candidates, which protesters dismiss as "fake democracy".

Hong Kong and Beijing have consistently branded the protests illegal.

Wong already appeared in court last week for a preliminary hearing on possible criminal contempt charges for blocking the police clearance of one of the main protest camps in November. No formal charges have been laid.

The students were surrounded by dozens of supporters some carrying yellow umbrellas - the symbol of the democracy movement.

One held a "Je Suis Charlie" poster - a slogan which has come to symbolise the fight for freedom of expression after gunmen stormed the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last week, killing 12 people. This time, it was printed over the backdrop of an umbrella.

Other leading figures have been asked to show up at police stations next week, including outspoken media tycoon Jimmy Lai - whose house and office were firebombed on Monday - and the three founders of the Occupy Central campaign.

"People were being unrealistic to think there would be some general amnesty," said Simon Young, who is associate dean for Hong Kong University's Faculty of Law.

"It's more a question of what shape this criminal justice response will take. Will it be harsh and punitive or will it be fairly reasonable?

"Police could have been going to homes and knocking on doors, but they aren't. They're doing it in fairly reasonable way without public fanfare," he said.

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