Court Sends Hong Kong’s Activists to Prison

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong, left, and Nathan Law, right, speak outside the high court before an ruling on a prosecution request for stiffer sentences following a lower court decision that let them avoid prison, in August in Hong Kong. Photo: Vincent Yu / Associated Press

HONG KONG — A court on Thursday overturned sentences that the prosecution said were too light and sent young Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong and two other student leaders of huge pro-democracy protests in 2014 to prison.

The three were immediately taken to serve their sentences of up to eight months. Wong pumped his fist in air as he walked out of the dock into custody.

The three were found guilty of leading or encouraging an illegal rally in September 2014 that kicked off the demonstrations known as the “Umbrella Movement.” Youthful activists brought major thoroughfares to a standstill for 11 weeks to protest Beijing’s plan to restrict elections in the Chinese-ruled former British colony.

Last year, a lower court sentenced Wong and Nathan Law, a student leader who was later elected to the legislature, to community service and gave a third activist, Alex Chow, a suspended three-week prison sentence.

A three-judge panel on Thursday decided to stiffen those sentences following a prosecution request and send all three to prison. Law was sentenced to eight months, Chow to seven and Wong to six.

Before their hearing, Wong, who became famous for his role in the protests because he was just 17 and still in high school at the time, was defiant in a speech to the media.

“People united will never be defeated,” Wong said outside the courthouse flanked by his co-convicted. He vowed they would continue “this long battle” for freedom and democracy.

“Time is on our side and one day Hong Kong will be a place we can determine our own future. We love Hong Kong,” he said into a microphone as a rival, pro-Beijing protester chanted, also on a microphone, nearby.

The appeal judges at the High Court had been expected to send them to prison, following their decision in a similar case this week involving 13 activists given eight to 13 months’ jail time after their original community service sentences were overturned.

Wong had been girding for such a possibility and tweeted to his followers that they shouldn’t abandon the movement.

“When those of us who face jail time have yet to give up, how can the rest of you give up?” he wrote, and also tweeted that he promised to keep up with his studies.

The case is the latest to raise fears that Hong Kong’s independent judiciary is under threat as the city’s Beijing-backed government uses the courts to clamp down on the opposition. Since legislative elections in September, the courts have disqualified from office half a dozen pro-democracy lawmakers, including Law, for having turned their oath-taking into apparent protests against Beijing.

Story: Kelvin Chan