Hong Kong prosecutors make second bid to beef up punishments for protesters

As in case of Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, prosecutors say not jailing people convicted over storming government buildings sends a bad message

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 August, 2017, 3:49pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 August, 2017, 11:04pm

Hong Kong prosecutors asked an appeal court on Monday to jail 13 protesters who avoided prison for storming the city’s legislature, saying the judiciary needed to send a “clear message” to other would-be protesters.

That application came on the heels of a similar bid to imprison prominent pro-democracy protesters who stormed the government headquarters and were also not jailed for it.

Sentencing the 13 to community service last year, Eastern Court magistrate Jason Wan Siu-ming accepted that they could have been driven by the “noble cause” of speaking up for the ignored when they held their unlawful protest outside the Legislative Council on June 13, 2014.

That protest was against the government’s plan to develop parts of the northeastern New Territories, which some feared would leave villagers homeless.

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But on Monday senior prosecutor Jonathan Mak Tak-ho told the Court of Appeal the crime was serious because the group had teamed up with others when they stormed the Legco building, despite being aware of a police presence. He asked the court to jail them, as a deterrent.

One of the protesters, Raphael Wong Ho-ming, representing himself, said Wan had adopted a non-deterrent approach because he knew a deterrent would not work best on protesters who would hardly change their minds, because of the deeply held convictions that motivate their acts.

Lawyers for other protesters urged the appeal court to exercise restraint.

It is city prosecutors’ second attempt in the past week to strengthen sentences for activists involved in protests which, they said, turned violent. On Wednesday, they asked the court to jail three key student activists from the 2014 Occupy protests, Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang, for storming the government headquarters.

In that case, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions David Leung Cheuk-yin said not jailing the trio – Wong and Law got community service while Chow got a suspended three-week jail term – sent the wrong message to young people.

On Monday, deploying a similar argument, Man said: “The court has to send a clear message to the defendants and their like-minded peers, who risk committing the same offence in the future, that this was a serious act and that it entails a serious legal consequence.”

Man told the court the protest involved participants removing a chain of metal barriers outside the Legco building. Some protesters used bamboo sticks and metal objects to pry open the Legco door, behind which police officers were already stationed, he added.

“They openly challenged and disregarded the rule of law,” he said.

The protesters were: Wong, Leung Hiu-yeung, Lau Kwok-leung, Leung Wing-lai, Ivan Lam Long-yin, Chu Wai-chung, Ho Kit-wang, Wong Kan-yuen, Kole Chow Koot-yin, Yim Man-wa, Billy Chiu Hin-chung, Kwok Yiu-cheong, and Chan Pak-shan.

Chiu was not in court on Monday, because prosecutors were unable to find him.

The group all either admitted or were found guilty after trial of at least one count of unlawful assembly.

Leung Hiu-yeung was also found guilty of an extra count of obstructing a Legco officer, while Wong Kan-yuen pleaded guilty to forcible entry. They were all sentenced to community service ranging from 80 to 150 hours.

Hitting back at Man’s argument, Raphael Wong cited a Department of Justice statement made following Canto-pop star Nicholas Tse Ting-fung’s conviction for perverting the course of justice in 2002, which said community service was a serious alternative to a jail term. Back then, Tse was ordered to do 240 hours of community work.

Wong urged the court to consider his and his fellow activists’ motives against the government, and said they had not intended to cause injuries or damage.

Both Justice Derek Pang Wai-cheong and Justice Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor said it was not the judges’ role to evaluate the government’s performance.

They, together with Court of Appeal vice-president Wally Yeung Chun-kuen, will continue to hear the protesters’ arguments on Tuesday.