Occupy leaders Joshua Wong and Nathan Law freed on bail and raring to continue democracy fight
The government can ‘lock up our bodies but they can’t lock up our minds’, Wong says, as duo walk free pending their appeals
Jailed Occupy protest leaders Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Nathan Law Kwun-chung presented a picture of defiance after they were released on bail by Hong Kong’s chief justice on Tuesday, vowing to continue their fight for greater democracy.
“Our time in prison is just a process and a chance for us to strengthen our determination to fight for democracy,” Wong told a group of nearly 100 journalists outside the Court of Final Appeal, following a 10-minute morning hearing before Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li that drew scores of supporters.
“No one would like to be put in prison, but that’s just ... part of our commitment to show that even under the hardline [governance] of President Xi Jinping, even [if] it’s still far away to reach democracy, we will still continue, through non-violent civil disobedience, strikes or different direct action on the street, to let people in the world know we still ask for free elections,” Wong said.
Watch: Occupy student leaders Joshua Wong and Nathan Law speak to the media
The two student leaders were freed after two months in custody, pending their appeals to the city’s top court over jail terms that replaced the community service orders they had earlier completed.
The Demosisto party activists were convicted alongside former student union leader Alex Chow Yong-kang, 27, over their roles at a protest that led to a 79-day occupation of major roads across Hong Kong in 2014 in the name of civil disobedience for greater democracy.
All three completed the non-custodial sentences handed down last year by a magistrate. But in August, after a review sought by the government, the Court of Appeal found those terms manifestly inadequate and gave them jail time instead.
The trio are appealing against their new sentences and a hearing for leave to appeal has been set for November 7.
Wong, 21, was recently transferred to the low-security Tung Tau Correctional Institution in Stanley to complete his six-month jail term for taking part in an unlawful assembly.
Demosisto chairman, Law, 24, was sent to the medium-security Tong Fuk Correctional Institution on Lantau Island to serve eight months for an incitement charge.
Chow, who is serving a seven-month term at the low-security Pik Uk Prison near Sai Kung for taking part in an unlawful assembly, has yet to apply for bail pending his appeal.
On Tuesday, Ma released Wong and Law on HK$50,000 cash bail, on top of surety from their parents at HK$50,000 each.
Other bail conditions include surrendering their travel documents, living at their home addresses and reporting to designated police stations once a week.
Prosecutors did not object to bail.
Wong was represented by Philip Dykes SC, while Law was represented by Robert Pang Yiu-hung SC and Michael Chai Chun.
The two student leaders were seen chatting and making jokes during their reunion in the dock, occasionally waving to their supporters, while four Correctional Services officers stood guard over them.
“Wong Chi-fung, gayau,” a voice called out in the public gallery, offering Wong support with the Cantonese phrase “add oil” before the start of the hearing.
Outside court, Demosisto deputy secretary general Agnes Chow thanked supporters for writing to the trio in jail and called on the public to show continuous care to “all political prisoners who were sent to jail for taking part in civil disobedience movements in Hong Kong”.
Joshua Wong’s father, Roger Wong, said the ruling allowed his son some temporary freedom to reunite with his family, but it did not mean the “injustice” of his being jailed had been rectified.
The elder Wong said he and his wife would prepare a special treat for their son.
“My special instant noodles and [his mother’s specially made] milk tea are his favourites, and we are going to prepare this meal for him,” he said. “If he is staying home tonight we will have a cosy chat with him.”
Joshua Wong never thought he’d be jailed over Occupy – but prison will only make him stronger, father says
Law’s supporters unfurled bright yellow umbrellas, symbols of the Occupy protests, as soon as he stepped out of the court building with his girlfriend, Tiffany Yuen Ka-wai.
He thanked his legal team and supporters for their hard work and patience.
“Jail is a place that requires adaptation ... there were times when things weren’t easy,” Law told the media. “But I believe many friends on the path of democracy are prepared for this, and we will not be deterred.”
However, Law said it was still too early to discuss the outcome of his appeal.
“Let’s see. I think the result means a lot for the implementation of ‘one country, two systems’ in Hong Kong, the rule of law in Hong Kong,” he continued. “The world is watching.”
Under the one country, two systems principle, Beijing guarantees a high degree of autonomy in various areas, including the judiciary.
On top of Law’s to-do list was a reunion dinner with his family to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, which he had spent alone in prison.
Other activities included helping out with ongoing controversies, which he had been following through news reports he read in custody, such as disputes over the amendment of the Legislative Council’s house rules and joint immigration facilities planned for the cross-border high-speed rail link to Guangzhou.
“So much has happened in Hong Kong ... I hope my bail can allow me to offer assistance,” Law said.
Wong, who spent time in both juvenile and adult prisons, said he would look into the rights of young inmates while catching up on current affairs and helping his party reclaim its Legco seat, following Law’s disqualification by the High Court in July for improper oath-taking.
But he admitted that his freedom might be short-lived as he still faced punishment over a separate court case also arising from the Occupy protests.
“Maybe one day Nathan and I will go back to jail again, but I want to say the government can lock up our bodies but they can’t lock up our minds,” Wong said.
“At the same time they can put us in prison, but they can’t put aside our determination to fight for democracy.”
Additional reporting by Cannix Yau