DOJ loses appeal for jailing of Occupy student leaders

September 22, 2016 12:19
Alex Chow (L), Nathan Law (center) and Joshua Wong will escape jail time as a judge has rejected the government's appeal for heavier punishments on the former Occupy activists. Photo: Reuters

A judge has rejected a request from government prosecutors to reconsider an earlier ruling for non-custodial sentences to three student leaders who were involved in a 2014 pro-democracy protest. 

Magistrate June Cheung Tin-ngan turned down an appeal by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to review her previous decision and put student leaders Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow in jail immediately.

Speaking at the Eastern Magistrates' Court, Cheung said her ruling had taken into account all the evidence provided by the prosecution and that non-incarceration penalties were appropriate on the defendants.

Upholding her original decision, the judge said the student leaders had just tried to make a point due to their political beliefs, and that it is unfair to compare them to gangsters.

She also stressed that the DOJ failed to provide more evidence to corroborate its claims in relation to the activities of the defendants.

The comments came after the department sought heavier punishments on Wong, Law and Chow who were found guilty in July of taking part in an unlawful assembly two years ago.

On Sept. 26, 2014, a few days before the Occupy movement officially kicked off, the pro-democracy activists stormed a barricaded area outside the government headquarters, breaking the rules.

Following the "Reclaim Civic Square" initiative, charges were brought against the student leaders.

After finding them guilty in July, Cheung last month handed down sentences that involved no prison time.

Wong and Law were ordered 80 and 120 hours of community service respectively, while Chow received a three-week jail sentence suspended for one year as the judge took note of his impending studies in Britain. 

Wong, 19, is former convenor of the now-defunct student group Scholarism, while Chow, 25, is former secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students. 

They were both convicted of taking part in unlawful assembly, while Law was found guilty of inciting others to take part in the action.

Law, 23, is chairman of the Demosistō political party that was established in April this year.

All of them had pleaded not guilty to the charges filed against them.

Following lenient sentences, which were announced on Aug. 15, the DOJ filed for a judicial review on the decision while the three youth activists also planned to appeal their convictions

David Leung, deputy director of public prosecutions who represents DOJ, told the court Wednesday that the student leaders' actions were premeditated as they involved a large number of protesters.

The "Reclaim Civic Square" incidents led to several security guards being injured, the prosecutor said, adding that the youth activists also showed no remorse.

Given this, immediate imprisonment is justified, Leung said.

But the judge rejected the appeal, saying that her earlier ruling was appropriate. 

Law, who won a seat in the Sept. 4 Legislative Council election, praised the judge following her rejection of the DOJ appeal.

The decision is appropriate and professional, he said, adding that he believes the DOJ's appeal may have stemmed from political pressure and not based on sound legal opinion. 

Wong said the court's move to overturn the appeal bodes well for the independence of justice and the rule of law in the city, Ming Pao Daily reports.

In other comments, Wong vowed to continue his fight for democracy in Hong Kong.

Democracy protest leaders escape jail term (Aug. 16, 2016)

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