Protesters who stormed Hong Kong’s Legislative Council given jail terms after prosecutors pushed for tougher sentences
Judges call earlier penalty imposed by lower court ‘manifestly’ inadequate, hand down deterrent sentence
Thirteen Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters convicted of unlawful assembly were jailed for between eight and 13 months on Tuesday after prosecutors launched a successful bid for a harsher punishment from the court.
Their supporters and fellow demonstrators said they were angry and saddened, while also worried that the ruling would restrict their freedom to hold protests.
The 13, part of a wider group who in 2014 stormed the Legislative Council over a controversial government development project, were originally given 80 to 150 hours of community service by a lower court in 2016.
In sentencing, Magistrate Jason Wan Siu-man took into account that the activists held a “noble cause” of speaking up for the ignored when they took part in the protest against a development project in Hong Kong’s northeastern New Territories on June 13, 2014. Critics said the project would leave people homeless.
But the prosecutors returned to the Court of Appeal on Monday to review the sentence, arguing that the crime was serious because the group had teamed up with others to storm the legislature despite being aware of a police presence. They asked the court to jail the 13 as a deterrent.
A panel of three justices – Court of Appeal vice-president Wally Yeung Chun-kuen and Justices of Appeal Derek Pang Wai-cheong and Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor – on Tuesday agreed with the prosecutors, saying that community service was “manifestly” inadequate.
“Sentencing young defendants with an aspiration is not something the court is happy to do,” the judges said. But they said there was a need to hand down a deterrent sentence for the sake of social order, and added that they would give elaborate reasons later.
The 13 are: 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, Chan Pak-shan and Raphael Wong Ho-ming, vice-chairman of the League of Social Democrats.
All were sentenced to 13 months in jail except Wong Kan-yuen, who will serve eight months because he pleaded guilty.
Most, if not all, of the defendants are expected to lodge an appeal, according to lawyers and people close to them.
Prosecutors failed to locate Chiu for the hearing. The judges on Tuesday issued an arrest warrant for him. He was arrested outside Hung Hom Square on Ma Tau Wai Road at about 5.30pm by police officers on patrol.
In a separate judgment relating to the same protest yesterday, Court of Final Appeal judge Mr Justice Roberto Ribeiro wrote: “It was a travesty to suggest that the violent attempts at forcing entry obviously with the disruption of the meeting in mind involved merely the exercise of a right of access to see the Financial Committee proceedings.”
But the top court gave the green light for Leung Hiu-yeung to challenge his conviction for obstructing a Legco officer during the same protest.
The harsher sentences received by the 13 on Tuesday led to some tears among their fellow protesters, including disqualified lawmaker Nathan Law Kwun-chung. Law said the court was not deterring “radical acts by protesters”, but “group after group of youngsters who have expectations and aspirations for society”.
Veteran activist and former lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung called the jail sentence a “heavy-handed” decision.
“There is no separation of power in Hong Kong,” he said, adding that the government would use all platforms to crush opposing voices.
Villager Au Hei-man said she could not understand why such sentences were given to those who had stood up against “bureaucratic violence”.
Pan-democratic lawmakers also accused the Department of Justice of persistently targeting protesters. The case is the city prosecutors’ second attempt in the past week to beef up sentences for activists involved in protests that, they said, turned rowdy.
Last week, prosecutors asked the court to jail three key student activists from the 2014 Occupy protests – Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law and Alex Chow Yong-kang – for storming the government headquarters.
The trio will learn their result on Thursday in a judgment expected to contain legal principles on how to sentence violent protesters.
While for that case, prosecutors had asked the court not to send the wrong message to young people, those in charge in this one said a clear message had to be conveyed to the public that taking part in a violent unlawful assembly would entail serious legal consequences.
In the present case, the 13 protesters all either admitted to or were found guilty after trial of at least one count of unlawful assembly.
They and their lawyers urged the appeal court to try to understand the lower court’s approach.