Three prominent pro-democracy student leaders who stormed government buildings in the run-up to the Occupy protests of 2014 were jailed for between six and eight months on Thursday, and therefore face a five-year ban from public office, as the government won its bid for harsher punishments.
The prison terms replaced the community service orders initially meted out to Demosisto leaders Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Nathan Law Kwun-chung, as well as the suspended three-week jail sentence for former student union chief Alex Chow Yong-kang.
Wong was sentenced to six months, Law to eight and Chow to seven. Those sentences mean all three will be disqualified from running for a Legislative Council seat for five years. Wong previously applied for a judicial review to lower the minimum age requirement so he could stand for Legco, and Law was booted from his Legco seat last month for taking his oath badly.
Speaking at court before he heard the ruling, and clearly expecting to go to jail, Wong said he wanted to see a "hopeful Hong Kong when I am out [of prison] next year", while Law declared he had no regrets about his activism.
The beefed-up punishment marks the government's second successful application this week to review community service orders for political activists, which prosecutors said were too lenient and sent the wrong message to young people.
The same panel of three Court of Appeal judges found such orders inadequate for 13 activists convicted over a separate protest against government development plans. Those protesters were subsequently jailed for up to 13 months on Tuesday.
Wong, Law and Chow were arrested on 26 September, 2014, as they tried to "reclaim" the popular protest site dubbed "Civic Square", outside government headquarters, which the administration had closed, citing security reasons. That protest ended with activists storming the building, and clashing with police.
It was a prelude to the 79-day pro-democracy Occupy protests, which kicked into full gear two days later.
Wong, 20, and Chow, 26, were later found guilty of unlawful assembly. Law, 24, was convicted of inciting others to take part in an unlawful assembly.
All three had testified that the storming was aimed at achieving talks with then chief executive Leung Chun-ying over the restrictive framework set by Beijing for how the city would elect its leader.
Trial magistrate June Cheung Tin-ngan said the case was atypical, in that it called for a more lenient and understanding attitude, since the three were young pro-democracy student leaders who expressed demands based on genuinely held political ideals.
She said a deterrent sentence would not be fair.
Before the hearing on Thursday, the three shared an emotional gathering with about 200 supporters at the entrance to the High Court.
Speaking before the hearing, Law slammed prosecutors for branding the participants of the non-violent Occupy movement as thugs.
"I have no regrets about ... fighting for the justice and values that I believe in," Law said.
And Wong said: "When even those young people in prisons do not give up, there is no excuse for others to give up."
"I hope to see a hopeful Hong Kong when I am out [of prison] next year," he added. "Keep up the fight. We love Hong Kong."
The delivery of the judgment was delayed to deal with a letter which Wong's lawyers had faxed to court late on Wednesday night. The lawyers eventually withdrew the letter, after taking instructions twice during breaks in the hearing.
The contents of the letter were not revealed in court, but the judges said it contained new issues for the court to consider, and rebuked the lawyers for inappropriate and irresponsible behavior.
The new sentence met with a swift rebuke from politicians in America.
In a statement, the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which monitors human rights and the development of the rule of law in China for the American government and legislature, condemned the jailings.
Using a popular name for the demonstrations of 2014, the commission's chair, Marco Rubio, said Wong, Law, Chow "and other umbrella movement protesters are pro-democracy champions worthy of admiration, not criminals deserving jail time".
"The political prosecutions and resentencing of these young people is shameful and further evidence that Hong Kong's cherished autonomy is precipitously eroding," he added.
Next week the Court of First Instance will hear a judicial review application on whether it was lawful for the government to restrict access to Civic Square back in 2014. The applicant contends the area is public space.
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