Jailing Hong Kong’s three young Occupy leaders ‘will deter others from joining protests’
Criminal lawyer says lower courts must now follow ‘deterrence’ principle in handing out sentences instead of being lenient towards those under 21
The Hong Kong Court of Appeal which sent three young Occupy leaders to jail warned against what one judge called the “unhealthy trend” of advocating civil disobedience, while observers feared the ruling would intimidate people into staying away from future pro-democracy drives.
While the city’s democracy activists pledged to maintain their campaigns even if allies were jailed, a criminal lawyer said the lower courts, which used to value young defendants’ ideals, would have to follow the Court of Appeal’s “deterrence” principle in handing down future sentences.
The ruling – which sees Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Alex Chow Yong-kang and Nathan Law Kwun-chung sent to jail for six to eight months – was the government’s second successful attempt in a week to seek tougher sentences for protesting activists.
Court of Appeal vice-president Wally Yeung Chun-kuen slammed the “unhealthy trend” in which intellectuals advocated the idea of civil disobedience.
“These people openly despise the rule of law. Not only do they refuse to admit their law-breaking behaviour is wrong, they even see their acts as something to be proud of,” Yeung wrote.
“This arrogant and self-righteous thinking will unfortunately affect some of our young people and result in attempts to disrupt public order ... during rallies, marches and protests.”
Criminal lawyer Stephen Hung Wan-shun said the ruling handed down by the Court of Appeal would have far-reaching implications for similar cases in future.
“In the past, the principle was that jail terms should be the final resort for young defendants, especially those under 21 years of age ... but now the Court of Appeal’s guideline is that they should be jailed,” he said.
Hung dismissed concerns that people’s freedoms had been narrowed by the ruling, but he believed “there would be no room for any use of violence” at future rallies.
Chinese University political scientist Dr Ma Ngok said the two rulings would inevitably exert pressure on Hongkongers and prompt them to think twice before joining protests.
“Behaviour which they thought would only lead to community service might now end them up behind bars,” he said.
Joshua Wong says party will send ‘most capable’ candidates even if jail keeps him out of by-elections
But the pro-democracy camp, which will hold a march on Sunday to support the jailed activists, was undeterred.
Lester Shum, one of the Occupy student leaders, said they had decided to participate in civil disobedience after exhausting different means to achieve universal suffrage in Hong Kong, and it was neither a rash decision nor a result of brainwashing.
Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting said he was saddened by the ruling but had no regrets in initiating the civil disobedience movement.
Tai, also a legal scholar, added the Court of Appeal judgment stood in contrast to a comment made in 2006 by British judge Lord Hoffmann, who is also a non-permanent judge of the city’s Court of Final Appeal.
Hoffman argued: “Civil disobedience on conscientious grounds has a long and honourable history .... It is the mark of a civilised community that it can accommodate protests and demonstrations of this kind. I would leave it to the public to judge which [argument] is more civilised.”
The judgment on Thursday also implied that the young activists would be barred from contesting the 2020 Legislative Council elections as anyone who is jailed for more than three months will not be qualified to run for five years.
It also harms young political party Demosisto, as three out of eight of its standing committee members – including Wong and Law – are now in jail.
Core member Agnes Chow Ting admitted they had lost their icons, but the party’s daily operations would not be greatly affected.
Additional reporting by Kimmy Chung