The Court of Appeal has sentenced democracy activists Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow to prison over their involvement in a clash which sparked the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests. Wong received six months behind bars, Chow will serve seven months, whilst Law was handed an eight month prison term.
Thursday’s sentencing followed a successful appeal of their sentences by the Department of Justice. It came almost three years after the Occupy demonstrations rocked the city.
Upon the sentencing, Wong tweeted: “They can silence protests, remove us from the legislature and lock us up. But they will not win the hearts and minds of Hongkongers.”
Defence lawyers Michael Vidler and Jonathan Man told HKFP that they intend to appeal.
Last July, the trio were convicted on unlawful assembly charges. Wong was sentenced to 80 hours of community service, Law received 120 hours, whilst Chow received a three-week suspended jail sentence.
However, the Department of Justice applied for a review of the sentence earlier this month, arguing that the storming of the government headquarters’ forecourt was planned, and that the court neglected the gravity of the offence. Wong and Law had already completed their community service orders at the time.
Judge Wally Yeung said that the three defendants knew their actions were illegal, but still took part and incited others – especially young students – to do so. He said it was very irresponsible, as the students may have to live with regret for the rest of their lives.
Yeung added that the defendants’ banners of peace and rationality were empty words, and that they were lying to both themselves and others. If the court’s sentencing was insufficient to deter similar offences, he said, the court would need to impose sentences with an even greater deterrent effect in order to defend the dignity of the rule of law.
The clash outside the Legislative Council followed class boycotts protesting a decision made by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, which stated that Hong Kong’s chief executive candidates must be vetted before a popular election. The police later used tear gas to disperse thousands of demonstrators, and a 79-day protest occupying main roads around Hong Kong ensued.
Ahead of his court appearance, Joshua Wong said he had no regrets: “We are facing waves and waves of political persecution… I hope when we come out next year, we will see a Hong Kong that did not give up.”
Outside the court, former Occupy activist Yvonne Leung said: “Everyone, if your inner hearts can hear, please fight alongside us.”
Wong’s Demosisto party also released a statement after the ruling: “Demosisto is of the opinion that the students had exhausted every possible means within the establishment before resorting to civil disobedience as an attempt to engage in a dialogue with the government… Demosisto humbly invites Hong Kong citizens, especially those who wish to escape from politics, to rally their courage in face of the challenges ahead. We will keep calm and carry on with our principle of non-violence, standing hand in hand with Hong Kong people in the fight for democracy and freedom.”
Earlier, supporters outside court chanted: “Shame on political persecution! We are all Joshua Wong! We are all Nathan Law! We are all Alex Chow! We are all Hongkongers!”
The ruling came after a series of dramatic halts in proceedings.
The defence submitted a letter containing “new information” by fax to the court at 11pm on Wednesday. Without disclosing its contents, the court sought to consider it but the defence then decided to withdraw the letter. The court went into recess three times as one judge slammed the move as “very inappropriate.”
‘Craven political move’
As the jail terms exceed three months, the activists will be prevented from running in elections for public office – including the Legislative Council and District Council – for a period of five years. Law, who was recently disqualified as a lawmaker over his controversial oath-taking last year, will be barred from participating in the by-elections.
Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said on Wednesday: “Hong Kong authorities should never have prosecuted these three student leaders for peaceful protests in the first place.”
— Joshua Wong Chi-fung (@joshuawongcf) August 16, 2017
“The justice department’s outlandish application seeking jail time is not about public order but is instead a craven political move to keep the trio out of the Legislative Council, as well as deter future protests.”
The appeal court on Tuesday also jailed 13 protesters involved in a June 2014 clash over the northeast New Territories development plans. The Department of Justice had applied for a similar review of their community service sentences, arguing that the events bordered on a riot.