Hong Kong appeals court strikes down jail terms for activist trio

Hong Kong (dpa) - The Court of Final Appeal on Tuesday struck down the jail terms of Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow for their role in Hong Kong's September 2014 pro-democracy protest. 

The trio walked free after they successfully appealed their sentences ranging from six to eight months handed down by a lower court.

Law and Wong were found guilty in August 2016 of unlawful assembly while Chow was found guilty of inciting people to join a protest.

The September 26 event saw activists attempt to storm central government headquarters and occurred shortly before the start of the Umbrella Movement.

The 79-day pro-democracy protest movement called for the direct election of Hong Kong’s chief executive, its highest ranking leader, and occupied large swathes of the city’s financial district.

The government, however, came down hard on protest organizers and prosecuted dozens in the past two years.

The trio’s sentences, handed down last August, were highly controversial as the courts overturned earlier and more lenient sentences of community sentence and suspended jail time at the request of the secretary for justice.

In the ruling Tuesday, Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma found that the new sentence was "significantly more severe than the range previously established by the courts and accordingly would be inappropriate to apply retrospectively" to the trio.

He said, however, in the future that the courts would take a harder line on civil disobedience where “disorder and any degree of violence was involved.”

Speaking after the judgement, Wong told reporters that it was “not a time to celebrate” due to Ma’s harder stance on future acts of civil disobedience.

“Even though the judges allow us to leave the court, we still face the same range of prison sentencing in the future,” he said.

Wong also remains in an uncertain legal future as he is still appealing a separate three month conviction related to a November 2014 Umbrella Movement protest.

Amnesty International, however, hailed the judgement on Tuesday  saying that it “corrected an injustice.”

“The government’s vengeful pursuit of harsher sentences led to the trio being jailed and it is right this has now been overturned,” the rights group said in a statement.

“All politically motivated prosecutions aimed at silencing those promoting democracy in Hong Kong must be dropped. The government’s unyielding stance is having a chilling effect on the human rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.”

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