Hong Kong top court overturns prison sentences for activists

Hong Kong top court overturns prison sentences for activists

Hong Kong's top court ruled on Tuesday that the three student leaders convicted for their roles in a protest that led to the pro-democracy Occupy Movement in 2014 should not be jailed, overturning the prison sentences given to them previous year.

Pro-democracy activists (from left) Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law pose outside the Court of Final Appeal before a verdict on their appeal in Hong Kong February 6, 2018. Wong and Law were sentenced to 80 hours and 120 hours of community service, respectively, while Chow was sentenced to three weeks imprisonment suspended for one year.

Backing the original ruling given by Magistrate June Cheung Tin-ngan, the top court's panel said she did not make any mistake on the case, disapproving the appellate court's claim that she made five errors of principle, including not considering deterrent factors at all and giving incommensurate weights on the defendants' backgrounds and motives. In August, however, the government challenged the non-custodial punishments and an appeal court sent the three to jail for six to eight months.

The three activists were somber despite being freed, saying future activists could be unjustly punished for civil disobedience, even acts aimed at defending local rights and freedoms. "At the same time it's not the time for any congratulations or celebrations". The case centered around a protest on September 26, 2014, that sparked a 79-day occupation of much of downtown Hong Kong by democracy activists.

"According to the judgement, maybe more activists will be locked up", said Wong outside court after the ruling.

Willy Lam, adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says the decision could "be used by police to restrict freedom of expression", with any public political gathering subject to a "fluid" definition of unlawful assembly. Wong told them they should continue their fight for democracy.

Last week a dozen USA lawmakers nominated Wong, Law, and Chow along with Hong Kong's entire pro-democracy movement for the Nobel Peace Prize, in an effort to recognize what they said were peaceful efforts to bring political reform to Hong Kong and uphold its rule of law and human rights.

Besides the trio of Wong, Law and Chow, dozens of other mostly young democracy activists have also been jailed, or are facing court proceedings that could see them incarcerated for various forms of rights activism, in what some see as a concerted attempt by authorities to curtail the momentum of the city's youth-led democracy movement. "This is setting a precedent".

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