Hong Kong top court overturns prison sentences for activists

Hong Kong top court overturns prison sentences for activists

Hong Kong top court overturns prison sentences for activists

Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow were jailed in August previous year for their role in the 2014 Umbrella Movement mass pro-democracy protests, after Hong Kong's government pushed for harsher sentences.

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.

On Friday, it was learned that the three activists, as well as the pro-democracy group behind the Umbrella Movement, have been nominated for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, a first for Hong Kong.

The case sparked controversy because a magistrate initially gave the three lenient sentences but the justice secretary requested a review that resulted in prison time ranging from six to eight months, raising worries about judicial independence and rule of law in the former British colony.

The highest court said the appeals court "erred in dispensing with the need to consider other sentencing options", in meting out punishment against the three.

But while Tuesday's judgement found in favour of the activists, it also endorsed the view of the appeal court that unlawful assembly involving violence must be deterred, saying even the "relatively low" degree of violence in the trio's case could in future lead to jail terms. The trio were released on bail in October and November a year ago pending their appeal.

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"It's not a time for celebration ..." He also said the road to democracy in Hong Kong will be bumpier in the future because the "Reclaim Civic Square" initiative was deemed violent and the standards for civil disobedience was tightened. Wong told them they should continue their fight for democracy.

Willy Lam, adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says the decision could "be used by police to restrict freedom of expression", with any public political gathering subject to a "fluid" definition of unlawful assembly.

Last week a dozen USA lawmakers nominated Wong, Law, and Chow along with Hong Kong's entire pro-democracy movement for the Nobel Peace Prize, in an effort to recognize what they said were peaceful efforts to bring political reform to Hong Kong and uphold its rule of law and human rights.

In 2016, Wong, Law and Chow were sentenced to non-jail terms, including community service for "unlawful assembly".

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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