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FILE PHOTO - Former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten attends an interview in Hong Kong, China November 25, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

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EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Chris Patten, the last governor of former British colony Hong Kong, has criticised the jailing of three leaders of the Chinese-ruled city's pro-democracy movement saying the men should be a source of pride.

Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, Alex Chow and other Umbrella Movement protesters were sentenced to six to eight months in prison on Thursday for unlawful assembly, a blow to the youth-led push for universal suffrage.

"I think they will be remembered, and their names will be remembered, long after nobody can remember who I was, and perhaps nobody can remember who President Xi Jinping was," Patten told an audience at the Edinburgh Book Festival, according to its official bulletin.

"We should be proud of what those kids are doing."

Patten, who is now chancellor of the University of Oxford, had frosty relations with Chinese authorities as he prepared to return the territory to Chinese rule in 1997. Beijing accused him of potentially destabilising the city in the run-up to handover with his reform proposals.

In his Edinburgh remarks, Patten also described China's treatment of the Nobel Peace Prize-winner Liu Xiaobo, who died last month after being released for medical reasons as "appalling".

"And the way his wife is being treated today is appalling, and who is making a fuss about it? You search in vain for anything other than a rather mealy-mouthed statement from foreign ministers, and it makes me wonder whether there's a sort of decadence that's affecting us which undermines any sense of honour we might have," he added.

China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. China has frequently criticised remarks by the British government expressing concern about Hong Kong, saying Hong Kong is part of China and that no country has a right to interfere.

Hong Kong's legal chief denied any "political motive" in seeking jail for the pro-democracy activists on Friday, responding to a Reuters report that he had overruled other legal officials who had initially advised against pursuing the case.

(Reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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Reuters