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'Biggest turnout since Umbrella Movement'

Supporters hold Sunday street protest over jailing of HK democracy activists

HONG KONG Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday to protest against the jailing of three democracy activists.

Joshua Wong, 20, Nathan Law, 24, and Alex Chow, 27, were jailed for six to eight months on Thursday for unlawful assembly, dealing a blow to the youth-led push for universal suffrage and prompting accusations of political interference.

The people marched to the Court of Final Appeal, carrying placards and banners denouncing the jailing of the activists.

Former student leader Lester Shum, 24, who helped to organise Sunday's rally, said the number of protesters was the highest since the Umbrella Movement pro-democracy protests in 2014 that paralysed major roads in the financial centre for 79 days.

"This shows that the Hong Kong government, the Chinese Communist regime and the Department of Justice's conspiracy to deter Hong Kong people from continuing to participate in politics and to protest using harsh laws and punishments has completely failed," Mr Shum said.

Police estimated 22,000 people had shown up.

Protesters shouted: "Release all political prisoners. Civil disobedience. We have no fear. We have no regrets."

Mr Ray Wong, 24, who leads the pro-independence group Hong Kong Indigenous, said outrage over the jailings was helping to unite the pro-democracy opposition camp that has been riven by divisions over the past few years.

"Since the Umbrella Movement, the radical and milder forces walked their own path," he said. "We're now standing together. It is a good start."

In Sunday's protest, some signs said "Shame on Rimsky", referring to Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen. Reuters reported that he had overruled other legal officials when they advised against pursuing prison terms for the three activists.

Mr Wong and his colleagues triggered the 2014 protest when they climbed into a courtyard fronting the city's government headquarters. They were sentenced last year to non-jail punishments for unlawful assembly, but the Department of Justice applied for a review, seeking imprisonment.

Mr Yuen denied any "political motive" in seeking jail for the trio, while the Hong Kong government rejected allegations of political interference.

"There is absolutely no political consideration involved... allegations that the court is under political interference are totally unfounded and groundless," it said in a statement.- REUTERS

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