The three Hong Kong democracy activists convicted last year on charges of unlawful assembly and incitement, for their part in sparking 2014’s Occupy protests in the city, won their appeal against prison terms on Tuesday.
Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow won their case in Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal after being handed jail sentences of six to eight months each by three Court of Appeal judges in August. 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. The charges against the three related to the storming of a government complex.
Law said in a media briefing after the announcement of the verdict that he was saddened that the Court of Final Appeal had agreed with the Court of Appeal’s determination that the storming of Civic Square, and the occupation – which became known as the Umbrella Movement – constituted violent actions. He said peaceful protestors still faced the risk of being put in jail.
Chow said the refusal of governments in Hong Kong and Beijing to allow the people of Hong Kong genuine universal suffrage and attempts to use a fake consultation to fool the public were acts of violence in themselves. He added that the protestors had wanted to engage with the Hong Kong government to develop constructive ideas about the city’s political reform.
The storming of Civic Square came after the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress’ decided, on August 31, 2014, to reject all genuine proposals for universal suffrage, Chow said.
Wong said it was unfair to accuse the Occupy protestors of violence as they had shown no intention of hurting anyone. He said the fight for democracy would continue.
Last summer, Law and Wong were initially given 120-hour and 80-hour community service orders, respectively, while Chow was handed a three-week jail sentence along with a one-year probation. 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 trio were granted bail after being jailed for more than two months, then filed an appeal to The Court of Final Appeal. Tuesday’s ruling endorsed the lower appeal court’s verdict that sentencing should be stricter in future unlawful assembly cases and that civil disobedience should not be a mitigating factor, particularly when violence is involved. However, it also said this ruling should not be retrospective and therefore could not be applied to the three activists.