HONG KONG • The jailing of Hong Kong's best-known democracy activists has pushed a new wave of young leaders to take the helm as they seek to keep the movement's message alive.
Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, who carved out international reputations with their campaigning, were both jailed last month in what rights groups have slammed as politically motivated prosecutions. Alongside fellow activist Alex Chow, they are serving sentences of between six and eight months for their roles in a protest that triggered mass Umbrella Movement rallies in 2014 calling for democratic reforms.
The sentences were a blow to the pro-democracy movement and seen as more evidence that Beijing is tightening its grip on semi-autonomous Hong Kong. But they also breathed new life into a campaign that had been struggling for momentum since the 2014 rallies failed to win concessions.
Tens of thousands took to the streets to protest against the jail terms last month, and activists who have been at the right hand of Wong and Law are now stepping into the spotlight.
"We should try to do more, not only for them but also for our city, and to show the government and the Chinese regime that we are not going to be scared," said Ms Agnes Chow, a close friend of the jailed activists. If a by-election for the Hong Kong legislature is held early next year - after her 21st birthday this December - Ms Chow would be old enough to run for Law's vacated seat, and she has not ruled that out.
Law was one of four pro-democracy lawmakers disqualified from Parliament in July for inserting protests into their oaths of office.
Ms Chow was a core member of Wong's Scholarism group, which organised huge rallies in 2012 forcing the government to shelve a proposal to introduce compulsory patriotic national education. She is also one of the best-known faces of the Umbrella Movement and a member of Wong and Law's political party Demosisto.
Ms Chow said the government was using the jail terms to scare people away from social movements. "It is important for us to learn how to overcome fear in order to fight for our own basic human rights and freedom and democracy," she said.
Ms Chow and fellow Demosisto member Derek Lam said the democratic movement now needed to improve its connections at the grassroots level to build a stronger base. But Mr Lam, 24, who is one of Demosisto's most recognisable leaders, also faces charges over an anti-China protest last year and believes there will soon "only be a few people left" to lead the cause.
Activist Lester Shum said those who are free to continue campaigning should put pessimism aside. Mr Shum, 24, also a prominent leader during the Umbrella Movement, said the jailing of Wong, Law and Chow was a turning point for the democratic movement. "I think this will somehow encourage pro-democratic Hong Kong people," said Mr Shum, who is facing contempt of court charges but vows to fight on.