Joshua Wong and two other leading Hong Kong democracy activists won an appeal against their jail terms at the city’s highest court Tuesday in a case seen as a test for the independence of the city’s judiciary, which some fear is under pressure from Beijing. But the trio warned it was not a time for celebration because the city still faced threats to its freedoms. Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow were jailed in August last year for their role in the mass pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests of 2014 after Hong Kong’s government pushed for more severe sentences. A lower court had originally given Wong and Law community service orders and Chow a suspended sentence. But after the government’s intervention they were jailed for between six and eight months by the Court of Appeal. All three activists were later bailed pending their appeal.
Chief justice Geoffrey Ma said Tuesday that the terms given to the trio were “significantly more severe” than the range previously given for unlawful assembly offences.
The judgement backed the decision of the magistrate who originally handed down non-custodial sentences, saying she had not “erred in principle” by taking into account factors including the defendants’ idealism, their youth and the fact that they had not offended before.
The government’s move to seek jail sentences for the activists was seen as further evidence of Beijing’s growing influence over the semi-autonomous city, with Chinese authorities particularly riled by the emergence of activists calling for independence for Hong Kong.