The city’s highest court today overturned prison sentences for Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang. They had been convicted for their roles in kicking off 2014’s Occupy Central protests.
A panel of judges sided with the pro-democracy activists in their appeal against months-long prison terms for unlawful assembly.
The Court of Final Appeal’s ruling was a stunning victory for Hong Kong’s youth-led opposition movement after recent setbacks, including Agnes Chow Ting’s disqualification from an upcoming election. The trio’s case sparked controversy because a magistrate initially gave the three lenient sentences, but the justice secretary requested a review that resulted in much longer prison time, raising worries about judicial independence and rule of law.
Wong, 21, Law, 24, and Chow, 27, had already served about two months of their sentences when they were released on bail. The 2014 Occupy, or “Umbrella Movement”, protests were started in protest at Beijing’s plan to restrict elections.
The decision by the five-judge panel promises to reinvigorate the youthful opposition movement that emerged from the aftermath of the 11-week protests after recent setbacks. Last month, election officials barred 21-year-old Agnes Chow, a member of Wong and Law’s political party, Demosisto, from running for an upcoming election, saying their party’s political platform advocating self-determination or independence for Hong Kong violated the city’s constitution.
Wong may still end up behind bars. He is also appealing a three-month prison sentence for a separate contempt case related to Occupy Central.
Last week, a dozen US lawmakers nominated Wong, Law, and Chow along with Hong Kong’s entire pro-democracy movement for the Nobel Peace Prize, in an effort to recognise what they said were peaceful efforts to bring political reform to Hong Kong and uphold its rule of law and human rights.