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Hong Kong democracy activists appeal jail terms

January 16, 2018

Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow are in court in a last-ditch effort to have their prison sentences overturned. They were jailed last year for leading Hong Kong's 2014 pro-democracy "Umbrella Movement."

Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow hold up their fists outside the court of final appeal
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Wallace

The three young activists appeared in Hong Kong's top court on Tuesday to appeal against their jail terms.

In August, Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow were given sentences ranging from six to eight months in prison for their roles in the mass democracy protests that gripped the semiautonomous Chinese city in 2014.

A lower court had originally let the trio off with suspended or community service sentences. But, in a controversial move, the justice secretary later requested the case be reviewed. 

The appeals court subsequently overturned the more lenient sentences in favor of jail terms, leading some to allege political meddling in the judiciary and pressure from China's communist leaders in Beijing.

Tensions with China

Wong and Law spent 2 and a half months in prison before being released on bail in October. Chow was released on bail in November. They could be sent back to prison immediately if the judge rejects their appeal bid.

"I hope that for today's verdict the Court of Final Appeal really treasures the motive of people fighting for democracy and fighting for justice as part of the consideration when making any judgments," said Law, 24.

He was elected Hong Kong's youngest lawmaker following the protests, but a government legal challenge later saw him disqualified from parliament.

Wong and Law's political party, Demosisto, want Hong Kong to be independent from China, a position that has irked Beijing.

Independent judiciary?

During the 2014 pro-democracy demonstrations, which lasted 79 days, activists and students brought Hong Kong's financial district to a standstill. The Umbrella movement, as it became known, demanded free elections to replace a system where the city's chief executive — its highest ranking leader — is appointed by a pro-Beijing committee.

The former British colony has been governed under a "one country, two systems" agreement since 1997 when Britain handed the territory back to China.

Under the deal, citizens have the right to freedom of speech and a partially directly elected parliament, as well as an independent judiciary.

nm/jm (AP, AFP, dpa)