Occupy Central

Eight activists who stormed city’s legislature in housing protest granted bail by Hong Kong’s top court

The eight are among 13 convicted for storming city’s legislature in 2014, in one of several protests against the government’s plan to build a new town in the northeast New Territories

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 November, 2017, 12:05pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 November, 2017, 10:42pm

Supporters and family members erupted in cheers after Hong Kong’s top court on Friday gave eight activists a temporary break from prison, a week after a lower court supported their bid to appeal against their jail terms.

The eight are among 13 who were convicted for storming the city’s legislature in June 2014, in one of several protests against the government’s plan to build a new town in the northeast New Territories.

They were initially given community service, but the Department of Justice successfully sought harsher penalties, landing them in jail for between eight and 13 months.

Student activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Nathan Law Kwun-chung, who were in the Court of Final Appeal’s public gallery to support the activists, darted towards the dock in joy while the eight waved at them.

Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal Roberto Ribeiro, in granting bail, warned that his decision was not related to the outcome of any possible appeal.

If the eight were given leave to appeal but lost the case, they would be “required to return and serve the rest of their sentences,” he said.

The eight are Lau Kwok-leung, Ivan Lam Long-yin, Kwok Yiu-cheong, Wong Kan-yuen, Ho Kit-wang, Kole Chow Koot-yin, Raphael Wong Ho-ming, and Chan Pak-shan. They were granted a cash bail of HK$10,000 (US$1,280) and required not to leave town.

The remaining five are still considering whether to lodge the same bail application, lawyers said.

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The 13 were originally told to do community service of between 120 and 150 hours by a lower court, for their role in the protest that resulted in more than HK$400,000 in repair costs, and a security guard needing 85 days of sick leave.

At the time of the protest, lawmakers debating the government’s plan to develop new towns at Kwu Tung and Fanling North, which would result in villagers there being forced out of their homes.

But prosecutors returned to court to demand jail time and the Court of Appeal sided with them in a sentencing review this August.

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Prosecutors also sought stiffer punishment for Wong, Law and another student leader, Alex Chow Yong-kang, for a separate protest, leading to their imprisonment.

Both the trio and the 13 lodged an appeal with the top court against the sentencing review.

On Friday, Ribeiro stressed that granting bail to the eight was made in “exceptional” circumstances, given that they had not yet been granted permission for their appeal, though the Court of Appeal had issued them with a certificate to seek an appeal at the Court of Final Appeal.

Ribeiro said that prosecutors had not objected to the bail application. He also felt that if they were allowed to appeal, there was a risk that they would have served a substantial part, if not all, of their sentences by then.

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Also, they had raised questions on their jail sentences that were in line with legal issues raised by the Occupy trio, who had been granted leave to challenge their jail terms, and are also out on bail. Their appeal hearing will be on January 16 next year.

Yet, Ribeiro made clear that he cited the trio’s case merely because of its legal relevance.

“I am not seeking to suggest the facts and circumstances of that case are … comparable to the facts of this case,” he said, referring to the trio’s involvement in storming the forecourt of the government offices two days before the Occupy protests kicked off in September 2014.

The eight activists’ application for leave to appeal will be heard only after the trio’s appeal hearing, he said.

Speaking outside court on Friday after their release, the activists thanked their families and supporters. Vice-chairman of the League of Social Democrats Raphael Wong said he would not bow to jail sentences.

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“We need to continue to speak up against all the injustice in Hong Kong,” he declared, before proceeding to take pictures with his family, who received a bouquet of flowers from an elderly neighbour who came to lend her support.

He urged the public to think of the villagers who would be affected by the New Territories development plan instead of the activists, and voiced his hope that the judges hearing their expected appeal would be open-minded and willing to focus on human rights.

“The land belongs to the people. Return the democratic planning process to the people,” his supporters chanted.

Disqualified lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho and another disqualified legislator Lau Siu-lau were among the supporters.

“We are all political victims. But we fear nothing,” Leung said.