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Hong Kong high court docket overturns jail sentences for…
08 February 2018, 07:08 | Bernice Figueroa
The three pro-democracy leaders are being nominated for a 2018 Nobel Peace Prize
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".
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.
The unlawful assembly charges for which Wong, Law and Chow were jailed related to their involvement in the storming of a fenced-off government forecourt known as Civic Square in September 2014. The Umbrella Movement went on to block major roads for 79 days in a push for full democracy.
But this non-jail sentence was challenged by Hong Kong's Department of Justice that pushed for a review, eventually leading the Court of Appeal to impose jail terms.
But after the government's intervention they were jailed for between six and eight months by the Court of Appeal. "At the same time it's not the time for any congratulations or celebrations". However, it also said this ruling should not be retrospective and therefore could not be applied to the three activists.
The magistrate was plainly aware of the factor of deterrence, the large scale nature of the assembly, the risk of violent clashes, the Appellants' knowledge of the likelihood of clashes between the participants and the security guards and the police and the inevitability that at least some security guards would be injured, and the fact that there was a prior lawful assembly and that the protesters did not have an absolute right to enter the forecourt.
"Maybe more and more activists will be locked up because of this harsh judgment..." Wong told them they should continue their fight for democracy.
A bi-partisan group of United States politicians including Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Chris Smith nominated "the entire pro-democracy movement" in Hong Kong for the coveted award.
Besides the trio of Wong, Law and Chow, dozens of other mostly young democracy activists have also been jailed, or are facing court proceedings that could see them incarcerated for various forms of rights activism, in what some see as a concerted attempt by authorities to curtail the momentum of the city's youth-led democracy movement. The ruling "set a risky precedent for sending people to prison for protesting in the future", says Maya Wang, senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch.
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