Hong Kong protest organizers free on bail before sentencing

Occupy Central leaders, from left, Chan Kin-man, Chu Yiu-ming and Benny Tai pose for photographers before entering a court in Hong Kong, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. Nine pro-democracy activists returned to court Wednesday in Hong Kong to await their verdicts after having been found guilty of various offenses in relation to the 2014 "Occupy Central" protest, which paralyzed city streets in the southern Chinese territory. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Occupy Central leaders, from left, Chan Kin-man and Benny Tai pose for photographers before entering a court in Hong Kong, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. Nine pro-democracy activists returned to court Wednesday in Hong Kong to await their verdicts after having been found guilty of various offenses in relation to the 2014 "Occupy Central" protest, which paralyzed city streets in the southern Chinese territory. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Occupy Central leaders, from right, Tommy Cheung, Tanya Chan, Benny Tai, Chu Yiu-ming, Chan Kin-man, Shiu Ka-chun, Lee Wing-tat, Raphael Wong and Eason Chung arrive at a court in Hong Kong, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. Nine pro-democracy activists returned to court Wednesday in Hong Kong to await their verdicts after having been found guilty of various offenses in relation to the 2014 "Occupy Central" protest, which paralyzed city streets in the southern Chinese territory. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Occupy Central leaders, from left, Chan Kin-man and Benny Tai smile before entering a court in Hong Kong, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. Nine pro-democracy activists returned to court Wednesday in Hong Kong to await their verdicts after having been found guilty of various offenses in relation to the 2014 "Occupy Central" protest, which paralyzed city streets in the southern Chinese territory. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Occupy Central leaders, from left, Shiu Ka-chun, Chan Kin-man, Chu Yiu-ming, Benny Tai and Tanya Chan shout slogans before entering a court in Hong Kong, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. Nine pro-democracy activists returned to court Wednesday in Hong Kong to await their verdicts after having been found guilty of various offenses in relation to the 2014 "Occupy Central" protest, which paralyzed city streets in the southern Chinese territory. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

HONG KONG — A Hong Kong court extended bail Wednesday for nine leaders of 2014 pro-democracy demonstrations who are awaiting sentencing after being convicted of public nuisance offenses.

The guilty verdicts handed down Tuesday against the nine were condemned by rights activists as a likely sign of increasing restrictions on free expression in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

The defendants will be sentenced April 24.

The nine were leaders of the "Occupy Central" campaign, which was organized as a nonviolent sit-in that became known as the "Umbrella Movement" after a key symbol of defiance against police adopted by the street protests. The movement shut down parts of Hong Kong, and was marked by occasional clashes between demonstrators, the police and others before the last protesters were cleared from the streets after 79 days.

Protesters demanded the right to freely nominate candidates for Hong Kong's leader who would then be elected by all of the territory's roughly 5 million voters.

However, they failed to win any concessions from the government and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam was chosen in 2017 from among a slate of candidates approved by Beijing and elected by a 1,200- member pro-China electoral body.

Amnesty International said the nine had indicated they would appeal their convictions to avoid deterring future protests or setting a precedent for similar prosecutions in the future.

"The conviction of these nine prominent figures of the Umbrella Movement is likely to have a chilling effect on freedom of peaceful assembly and expression in Hong Kong," the rights group said in a statement.

Ranging in age from their 30s to 70s, the nine defendants span generations of Hong Kong citizens who have been agitating for full democracy. The defendants had all pleaded not guilty, calling the prosecutions politically motivated.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of seven years.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997 under an agreement in which China promised the city could retain its own laws, economic system and civil rights for 50 years.

However, Chinese President and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping has been seen as extending his crackdown on civil liberties to Hong Kong, drawing criticism from commercial and legal associations as well as political, human rights and media groups.

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