Hong Kong | 'Umbrella Movement' activists walk free

Hong Kong | 'Umbrella Movement' activists walk free

Hong Kong | 'Umbrella Movement' activists walk free

Court of Final Appeal says lower court "erred" in considering sentencing against Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow.

The judges said the defendants should serve a suspended sentence or community service as ruled by a magistrate's court for their role in the mass protests.

The 2014 protests, which saw activists block major thoroughfares for 11 weeks, fizzled out but spawned a youth-led opposition movement that gained political traction while facing increasing resistance from Hong Kong's Beijing-backed government. "At the same time it's not the time for any congratulations or celebrations".

Law said in a media briefing after the announcement of the verdict that he was saddened that the Court of Final Appeal had agreed with the Court of Appeal's determination that the storming of Civic Square, and the occupation - which became known as the Umbrella Movement - constituted violent actions. However, it also said this ruling should not be retrospective and therefore could not be applied to the three activists. But after the government's intervention they were jailed for between six and eight months by the Court of Appeal.

Wong and Law's political party Demosisto wants self-determination for the city.

They stressed, however, that Hong Kong was a law-abiding society and that "future offenders involved in large-scale unlawful assemblies involving violence" will be subject to stricter guidelines laid down by the Court of Appeal.

Amnesty International's Hong Kong director, Mabel Au, said in a statement that the court had "corrected an injustice" but added that "all politically motivated prosecutions aimed at silencing those promoting democracy in Hong Kong must be dropped".

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Wong lamented the latest ruling, calling it a "sugar-coated" and "harsh" punishment.

In what was seen as a highly controversial decision, the Department of Justice retried the case a year ago, seeking harsher penalties; Wong, Law, and Chow were sentenced to six- to eight- month prison terms.

Wong is also appealing a three-month sentence under a separate contempt of court charge.

That sparked the wider Umbrella Movement rallies which brought parts of the city to a standstill.

But the jailing of democracy activists, the disqualification of opposition lawmakers from the legislature at Beijing's request and the lack of answers over the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers who resurfaced in the mainland have fuelled concern.

Britain and China agreed ahead of the 1997 handover that Hong Kong would enjoy a semi-autonomous status under the "one country, two systems" principle.

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