Thirteen pro-democracy activists who were previously handed community service orders for storming a Legislative Council finance committee meeting in 2014 were sentenced to jail for eight to 13 months by the Court of Appeal, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The court acted on an appeal by the Department of Justice for harsher punishment for the protesters, who were opposing a government development project in northeastern New Territories.
They had been convicted of unlawful assembly and ordered to do 80 to 150 hours of community service by a lower court in February 2016.
The appellate court sentenced 12 of the protesters to 13 months in jail and a defendant who pleaded guilty to eight months.
Several pro-democracy lawmakers and activists said the sentences were heavy-handed, while some worried that the case would set a dangerous precedent for future prosecution and greatly limit freedom of assembly.
After a two-day hearing, the vice president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Wally Yeung Chun-kuen, said the facts of the case, including the violence involved, had prompted them to decide that the original sentence of community service was too lenient.
He pointed out that the sentences were meant to deter similar crimes and protect social order.
The original sentence of at least 15 months’ imprisonment was lowered to 13 months as they had all completed the community service.
Disqualified lawmaker Nathan Law Kwun-chung, who was visibly shaken, said the sentence would not deter “radical acts” but rather young people with aspirations and hopes in society who want to bring about reforms.
Legislator Claudia Mo said the case would set a precedent and urged Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to stop prosecuting protesters.
Lam, who was chief secretary when the incident happened, had said it was done by people who were comfortable at using violence in protests.
Barrister Chan Wai-yuen said if the intention of the verdict was to be a deterrent, they should also apply the same standards to the the seven police officers who have been convicted of assaulting a pro-democracy activist in 2014 to serve as a deterrent to members of the disciplined services.
The officers have lodged an appeal of their conviction and two-year jail sentences.
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