Hong Kong: Court overturns unjust jail terms for Umbrella Movement leaders

Hong Kong: Court overturns unjust jail terms for Umbrella Movement leaders

Hong Kong: Court overturns unjust jail terms for Umbrella Movement leaders

Hong Kong's highest court on Tuesday unanimously chose to free three young leaders of the Chinese-ruled city's pro-democracy movement, including the public face of youth-led protests, Joshua Wong, in a stark reversal of an earlier ruling.

While a decision by Hong Kong's highest appeals court to drop prison sentences for prominent democracy activists was welcomed by human rights advocates and legal observers this week, the ruling raised alarm for the preservation of civil liberties and the independence of Hong Kong's judiciary.

But Hong Kong's Department of Justice appealed the decision, paving the way for an appeals court to order jail terms of six months for Wong, eight months for Law and seven months for Chow.

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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.

Chief justice Geoffrey Ma said today that the terms given to the trio were "significantly more severe" than the range previously handed down for unlawful assembly offences.

He added, though, that it would be inappropriate to retroactively apply harsher penalties to the three, who were initially given community service or suspended sentences according to sentencing guidelines at the time.

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"Maybe more and more activists will be locked up because of this harsh judgment... We must urge people to continue to fight for democracy", Wong said. "At the same time it's not the time for any congratulations or celebrations". Nathan Law was found guilty of "inciting others to take part in an unlawful assembly". Mr Wong, 21, Nathan Law and Alex Chow had served roughly two months in jail before they were granted bail in November.

The government's move to seek jail sentences for the activists was seen as further evidence of Beijing's growing influence over the city, with Chinese authorities particularly riled by the emergence of activists calling for independence for Hong Kong.

But the jailing of democracy activists, the disqualification of opposition lawmakers from the legislature at Beijing's request and the lack of answers over the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers who resurfaced in the mainland have fuelled concern. Last month, Agnes Chow, a member of Wong's Demosistō political party, was prevented from contesting a March by-election.

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Wong may still end up behind bars.

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