08 February, 2018
This week, the Court of Final Appeal ruled that sentence was "retroactive", but that future offenders will be subject to "new guidelines", which include harsher penalties for those deemed to be taking part in "large scale unlawful assemblies involving violence".
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 past year.
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.
In what was seen as a highly controversial decision, the Department of Justice retried the case previous year, seeking harsher penalties; Wong, Law, and Chow were sentenced to six- to eight- month prison terms. 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.
The protest sparked the "Umbrella movement," which pushed for full democracy in Hong Kong and brought parts of the city to a standstill for three months.
The court of appeal later imposed jail terms.
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The court quashed the increased sentences Tuesday finding that the Court of Appeal exceeded its authority in ascribing "a different weight to a factor properly taken into account by the sentencing judge in arriving at a sentence that is otherwise within the range of sentences appropriate for the offence".
Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with a guarantee of wide-ranging freedoms, including freedom of speech, but critics accuse Beijing of creeping interference in the city's affairs and the government of toeing the Beijing line.
But the trio warned it was not a time for celebration because the semi-autonomous Chinese city still faced threats to its freedoms.
All three activists were later bailed pending their appeal. "It's a long term battle for us in the future", said Wong after the February 6 verdict.
"According to the judgement, maybe more activists will be locked up", said Wong outside court after the ruling.
The judges said: "There is no constitutional justification for violent unlawful behavior. We must urge people to continue to fight for democracy", Wong said.