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

Pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong Alex Chow and Nathan Law walk out from the Court of Final Appeal

In August previous year, the Court of Appeal sentenced them to six to eight months in prison, prompting the trio to challenge the decision in the CFA.

The five-member Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal [official website] on Tuesday unanimously reversed [judgment] the August 2017 order sentencing the pro-democracy 2014 Umbrella Movement protesters Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, quashing their sentences and setting them free.

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. They served two months in jail before being bailed in November.

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

That sparked a night-long standoff with police and was seen as a key trigger for the "Umbrella Movement" that blocked major roads in the city for 79 days in a push for full democracy, presenting Communist Party rulers in Beijing with one of their biggest political challenges in decades.

Hong Kong's leading democracy activists won an appeal against their jail terms at the city's highest court today in a case seen as a test for the independence of the city's judiciary, which some fear is under pressure from Beijing.

Invalidating the sentences of imprisonment imposed by the Court of Appeal and reinstating those imposed by the magistrate, the court warned [press summary] that there is a new appellate guidance now in place from the Court of Appeal: "future offenders involved in large scale unlawful assemblies involving violence will be subject to the new guidelines rightly laid down by the Court of Appeal". "At the same time it's not the time for any congratulations or celebrations". The trio were released on bail in October and November past year pending their appeal.

"Maybe more and more activists will be locked up because of this harsh judgment ..."

The judges said: "There is no constitutional justification for violent unlawful behavior". "We just urge people to continue to fight for democracy".

A bi-partisan group of United States politicians including Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Chris Smith nominated "the entire pro-democracy movement" in Hong Kong for the coveted award.

Jonathan Man, a lawyer who has represented some of the rights activists, said: "This will have some impact on Hong Kong's activism ... the norm is different now and has shifted to heavier sentences".

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