Hong Kong democracy activists win against jail sentences

Irene MckinneyFeb 07, 2018

Hong Kong's highest court on Tuesday overturned prison sentences for three young pro-democracy activists convicted for their roles in kicking off 2014's "Umbrella Movement" protests in the semiautonomous Chinese city.

They were originally sentenced to community service and suspended sentences, but an appeals court controversially upgraded that to prison time.

A panel of judges sided with Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow in their appeal against months-long prison terms for unlawful assembly. Finding the punishment to be inadequate, the Court of Appeal, upon petition for review from the Secretary of Justice, increased those sentences in October 2016 to six, eight and seven months for Wong, Law, and Chow, respectively.

Wong is now appealing a separate prison sentence for contempt of court, which is also related to the 2014 protests. The court concluded that the magistrate's sentences were not in fact manifestly inadequate, since "there was no appellate court guidance requiring an immediate custodial sentence for a case of this nature" at the time of the sentences and because "a community service order was a sentence frequently passed in respect of unlawful assemblies" such as the one in question here.

"Maybe more and more activists will be locked up because of this harsh judgment", Wong, 21, told reporters on the courthouse steps after the decision. He said the fight for democracy would continue.

They stressed, however, that Hong Kong was a law-abiding society and that "future offenders involved in large-scale unlawful assemblies involving violence" will be subject to stricter guidelines laid down by the Court of Appeal.

Student protest leader Joshua Wong shouts as he is carried by policemen as protesters are arrested at a monument symbolising the city's handover from British to Chinese rule, a day before Chinese President Xi Jinping is due to arrive for the celebrations, in Hong Kong, China June 28, 2017.

Wong, Law, 24, and Chow, 27, had already served about two months of their sentences before they were bailed for their appeal. Wong also had plans to run for office but the prison sentence had barred him from office for five years.

Wong may still end up behind bars. The charges against the three related to the storming of a government complex.

Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, and Alex Chow were jailed in August a year ago for their role in the 2014 Umbrella Movement mass pro-democracy protests, after Hong Kong's government pushed for harsher sentences.

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