After a reprieve from jail of more than two months while awaiting the outcome of an appeal, Hong Kong student activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung was given another custodial sentence on Wednesday over a separate case for obstructing the court-ordered clearance of a protest site during the 2014 Occupy movement.
High Court Judge Mr Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai sentenced Wong to three months in prison, and his fellow activist Raphael Wong Ho-ming, vice-chairman of the League of Social Democrats, to four months and 15 days’ jail for contempt of court.
Another student leader, Lester Shum, was given a suspended sentence, as were 13 others. The suspended sentences ranged in length from one to two months, while some were also fined HK$10,000 or HK$15,000. The defendants’ ages ranged between 17 and 65 at the time of the offence.
“Correctional officers please take the two Mr Wongs away,” the judge said after announcing his decision.
Joshua Wong shook Shum’s hand before being taken away from the dock.
“Let’s all keep up,” he told supporters at the public gallery, including one woman who began to sob and cried out: “I want universal suffrage.”
The activists’ lawyers lodged an application on their behalf to not jail them yet pending an appeal.
But Chan inquired about the grounds of appeal, given he had already paid heed to Joshua Wong’s lawyers not to sentence him to more than three months in jail.
Lawrence Lok Ying-kam SC, for Joshua Wong, previously said that any jail term greater than that length would affect Wong’s chance to stand for election to the legislature.
“This is exactly [what] I give you now,” the judge said.
He will decide whether to let the two Wongs go at 4.30pm on Wednesday. Until then, the two will remain in the custody of corrections services officers inside the court building. If the application fails, they are expected to be taken to the Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre before being sent to their designated jail.
In his judgment, Chan noted that the city guaranteed a right to protest. But by the time the road was cleared, he said, it was “apparent” that their occupation “would not alter anything”. Yet it was affecting the life of other ordinary citizens.
“In the turmoil of any political movment, it is unfortunate always the poorest and the working class who suffer the most,” he wrote.
Chan ruled that Joshua Wong had played a “leading role” as he repeatedly challenged the validity of the court order by asking bailiff officers and others engaged by the plaintiff about their identities.
Raphael Wong, he said, also played a significant role, but Shum merely observed quietly.
The ruling comes a day after Wong’s lawyers made a last-ditch appeal to the Court of Final Appeal over another case, urging it to factor in the “noble cause” of protesters.
Speaking outside court prior to sentencing, Joshua Wong told his supporters: “You can lock up our body, but you can’t lock up our mind.”
He said he did not regret taking part in the civil disobedience movement in 2014.
A score of supporters, including disqualified lawmakers “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and Edward Yiu Chung-yim, chanted slogans at the entrance.
Shum said acts of civil disobedience were a right bestowed upon citizens to challenge a authoritarian regime, and that protesters’ jailing would be a significant move in a democracy.
Raphael Wong said the government under the former administration should be held accountable for contempt of court instead, as it had turned the judiciary into a “political tool”.
In August, Wong was jailed for six months for storming the government headquarters compound at Tamar during an illegal protest.
Members of the group who were sentenced on Wednesday were among 20 charged with contempt of court after refusing to leave a major protest site in Mong Kok, as the Kowloon side of the Occupy movement came to an end on November 26, 2014.
Four others were sentenced on November 28 last year. They were each fined HK$10,000 and given one-month suspended jail terms.
The 79-day civil disobedience movement for greater democracy, which brought parts of the city to a standstill, was triggered by Beijing’s restrictive framework on political reform in Hong Kong.
As activists occupied major roads, taxi and minibus driver groups sought a court order to clear protest sites in Mong Kok, claiming that the blockade hurt their livelihoods.
Bailiffs, acting on a court order, were tasked to clear a site on Nathan Road. The 20 protesters were arrested when they refused to leave.
While nine of them, including Joshua Wong and Shum, pleaded guilty to contempt of court, to the remaining 11, who denied the offence, were subsequently found guilty.
Last year, Wong, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang were found guilty of unlawful assembly charges over an illegal protest that became a prelude to the Occupy movement.
They were originially handed community services or a suspended sentence by a lower court, but in a controversial move, prosecutors took them back to court, asking for tougher sentences.
On Tuesday, one of the trio’s lawyers, Edwin Choy, appealed against their jail terms, arguing that a powerful mitigating factor was if protesters acted in a non-violent way and were motivated only by causes.
The top court will reveal its decision for that case – which is expected to have implications for future cases – at a later date.
The 16 who attended court on Wednesday
Jason Szeto Tsz Long
Joshua Wong Chi-fung
Raphael Wong Ho-ming