Three leaders of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement have been sentenced to community service over a protest that prompted huge rallies two years ago.

They were convicted last month for the demonstration that saw students climb into a government complex in September 2014.

It led to large rallies that brought parts of the city to a standstill for two months, but failed to win concessions on political reform from China.

The rallies came to be known as the Umbrella movement, after people used umbrellas as protection from police firing tear gas and pepper spray to break up the protests.

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Tensions are high as fears grow that China is closing its grip on semi-autonomous Hong Kong and observers had said that a harsh sentence for the three popular young campaigners could lead to a backlash.

The conviction of Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow last month, in the most prominent court case to emerge from the pro-democracy movement, was criticised by rights group Amnesty International, which described it as an intimidation tactic and a "chilling warning" to the city's activists.

No criminal records

Magistrate June Cheung said that the three defendants had no previous criminal records, were concerned about social issues and passionate about politics.

"They turned it into action," she said.

"The court believes the case is different from an ordinary criminal case. I accept they were genuinely expressing their views."

Cheung said it would be "unfair to the defendants if a deterrent sentence is imposed based on the political atmosphere".

Pro-democracy protests rocked the semi-autonomous territory of Hong Kong in 2014 [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Wong, 19, and Law, 23, were given community service over the protest, which saw students climb over a fence into forecourt of the government complex in the heart of the city, known as Civic Square.

The third activist, Alex Chow, 25, was given a suspended three-week sentence.

All three were facing possible two-year jail sentences when they appeared at district court on Monday morning.

'Political Persecution'

Wong and Chow had been charged with taking part in an unlawful assembly for the Civic Square demonstration, while Law was charged with inciting others to take part.

Wong has always said that the various protest-related charges against him and others are political persecution.

Since the failure of the mass rallies to win reform, a growing number of young activists have begun calling for Hong Kong to break entirely from China.

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Wong and Law, who is a candidate for the city's upcoming legislative council elections, recently founded a new political party, Demosisto, campaigning for self-determination for the city.

They have been in and out of court hearings for the past year after being charged with offences linked to various protest actions.

Both were acquitted in June over a separate anti-China rally in the summer of 2014.

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In another prominent case, activist Ken Tsang of the Civic Party was sentenced to five weeks in prison in May after he was found guilty of assaulting and resisting officers during the rallies.

He is currently on bail pending an appeal.

Hong Kong was returned to China by Britain in 1997 with its freedoms guaranteed for 50 years, but there are growing concerns that China's rulers are no longer adhering to the agreement.

Source: Al Jazeera And Agencies