Hong Kong court frees 'umbrella movement' leaders

Hong Kong court frees 'umbrella movement' leaders

Pro-democracy activists (left to right) Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law pose outside the Court of Final Appeal before a verdict on their appeal in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

Three leaders of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement vowed to continue their fight after their sentences were reversed by the Chinese-ruled city's Court of Final Appeal on February 6.

The trio were found guilty of taking part in an unlawful assembly on September 26, 2014, shortly before the Occupy protests officially kicked off, when they stormed a barricaded area outside the government headquarters in an initiative called "Reclaim Civic Square".

The government's move to seek jail sentences for the activists was seen as further evidence of Beijing's growing influence over the city, with Chinese authorities particularly riled by the emergence of activists calling for independence for Hong Kong.

The five judges, including a non-permanent foreign judge, Lord Leonard Hoffmann, said in the judgment that they had "quashed the sentences of imprisonment" by the Court of Appeal, Reuters reported.

They stressed, however, that Hong Kong was a law-abiding society and that "future offenders involved in large-scale unlawful assemblies involving violence" will be subject to stricter guidelines laid down by the Court of Appeal.

The nomination letter said it was in recognition of their "peaceful efforts to bring political reform and self determination to Hong Kong and protect the autonomy and freedom guaranteed (to) Hong Kong in the Sino-British Joint Declaration". "At the same time it's not the time for any congratulations or celebrations".

All three activists were later bailed pending their appeal.

"Maybe more and more activists will be locked up because of this harsh judgment", Wong, 21, told reporters on the courthouse steps after the decision. He also said the road to democracy in Hong Kong will be bumpier in the future because the "Reclaim Civic Square" initiative was deemed violent and the standards for civil disobedience was tightened. He said the fight for democracy would continue.

Rights experts and legal analysts warned the case could have a "chilling" effect, creating a more lenient threshold for jailing dissidents and endangering political liberties.

"All politically motivated prosecutions aimed at silencing those promoting democracy in Hong Kong must be dropped".

Law called the result a victory for the three of them but a defeat for Hong Kong democracy as they would definitely face heavier sentences should the same initiative take place at present.

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