HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s highest court overturned the jail sentences imposed on the three leaders of the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement on Tuesday (Feb 6).
Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow were free to go, after the Court of Final Appeal found it “inappropriate” for a lower court to increase their original sentences.
The trio were initially sentenced to community service for leading an illegal assembly that sparked a months long protest that locked down the center for Hong Kong in 2014. The government appealed that sentence, and the court of appeal subsequently sent them to jail for six to eight months.
In court on Tuesday, Chief Justice Geoffery Ma endorsed a sentencing guideline issued by the court of appeal that called for immediate imprisonment for those who cause violence or disorder. However, he said the lower court was wrong to apply the guideline retroactively to the present case.
The case has gained wide international attention, with several human rights groups calling it political persecution and decrying the eroding rule of law in Hong Kong.
In announcing his decision, Mr Ma said civil disobedience cannot be used as an excuse for leniency, and the court will not enter the realm of political debate.
Mr Wong could still go back to prison for a separate three-month sentence related to the Umbrella Movement which he is currently appealing.
The three former student leaders were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize last week by 12 US Congressmen, including former presidential candidate Marco Rubio, "in recognition of their peaceful efforts to bring political reform and self-determination to Hong Kong".