No jail for Occupy leaders Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, with Law still clear for Legco run
Sentencing judge describes pro-democracy activists as deserving of leniency in incident that started 2014 civil disobedience movement in Hong Kong
Aspiring lawmaker Nathan Law Kwun-chung is free to run in next month’s Legislative Council elections as he and former Scholarism convenor Joshua Wong Chi-fung were spared jail over the storming of government headquarters two days before the 2014 Occupy protests, while a third student leader was given a suspended jail sentence.
Eastern Court magistrate June Cheung Tin-ngan had intended to sentence all three to community service orders.
But yesterday, she jailed former Federation of Students secretary general Alex Chow Yong-kang, 25, for three weeks suspended for one year because he needed to study abroad.
Wong, 19, and Demosisto president Law, 23, were each given 80 and 120 hours of community service for their respective convictions on one count of unlawful assembly and one of inciting others to take part in an unlawful assembly.
They became the first organisers convicted after leading the pro-democracy civil disobedience movement.
They had previously denied the charges, but said they were willing to bear responsibility for their actions.
Their case centred on a key protest that sparked the occupation of key roads almost two years ago, when student activists stormed the east wing forecourt at government headquarters – unofficially dubbed Civic Square – despite it being closed for security reasons on September 26.
All three had testified that the storming was aimed at obtaining a dialogue with Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying over the political reform framework set by Beijing for next year’ s election for the city’s top leader.
The magistrate said the court had to consider the motives and intentions behind the offence with a more lenient and understanding attitude because the case was atypical.
The defendants, she said, were young pro-democracy student leaders who expressed their demands based on their genuinely held political ideals or concern for society and a deterrent sentence would not be fair.
“[Their] actions were undoubtedly reckless, but they were not very violent nor intentional in harming security guards or police officers,” she continued. “They only wanted to enter the east wing forecourt, the Civic Square, with a historical and symbolic meaning that they genuinely believe in, to form a circle and chant slogans.”
Chow said outside court he found the ruling powerful because it served as a timely warning for rulers to consider the motives and stances behind different voices in debating political issues like Hong Kong’s independence and autonomy.
“I really appreciate the magistrate’s ruling and I am very grateful,” he said.
Law’s non-custodial sentence meant his bid to run for a Legislative Council seat next month would not be affected as candidates are only disqualified if they are jailed for three months or longer.
“The relatively lenient result this time did not leave great obstruction to the election campaign,” Law said. He did not rule out an appeal against the conviction but said they would need time to consult lawyers.
The trio emphasised they would continue with civil disobedience movements to fight for greater democracy, human rights and freedoms in the city.
“There may be a serious price in the future.” Wong said. “I may go to jail but I will not regret what I have done.”