Hong Kong democracy activists appeal jail terms in court

Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow are in court in a last-ditch effort to have their prison sentences overturned. They were jailed last year for leading Hong Kong's 2014 pro-democracy "Umbrella Movement."

The three young activists appeared in Hong Kong's top court on Tuesday to appeal against their jail terms.

In August, Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow were given sentences ranging from six to eight months in prison for their roles in the mass democracy protests that gripped the semiautonomous Chinese city in 2014.

A lower court had originally let the trio off with suspended or community service sentences. But, in a controversial move, the justice secretary later requested the case be reviewed. 

The appeals court subsequently overturned the more lenient sentences in favor of jail terms, leading some to allege political meddling in the judiciary and pressure from China's communist leaders in Beijing.

Politics | 06.11.2016

Tensions with China

Wong and Law spent 2 and a half months in prison before being released on bail in October. Chow was released on bail in November. They could be sent back to prison immediately if the judge rejects their appeal bid.

"I hope that for today's verdict the Court of Final Appeal really treasures the motive of people fighting for democracy and fighting for justice as part of the consideration when making any judgments," said Law, 24.

He was elected Hong Kong's youngest lawmaker following the protests, but a government legal challenge later saw him disqualified from parliament.

Clampdown on protests ahead of Hong Kong handover anniversary

Demanding democracy

Police arrested at least 26 young activists for causing "public nuisance" at a protest ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping's arrival in Hong Kong. Animosity towards Beijing has grown among young people in Hong Kong in recent years, with some demanding a full split from the mainland. A protest on July 1, the day of the anniversary, could draw up to 100,000 people.

Clampdown on protests ahead of Hong Kong handover anniversary

A shadow over Hong Kong's 'Golden Bauhinia'

Protesters previously draped a black sheet over the "Forver Blooming Gold Bauhinia" sculpture. The statue, which depicts Hong Kong's sweet-smelling official emblem, was given to the city by China to mark the 1997 handover. It is located outside a convention center that will host some of the anniversary events and is close to where Chinese President Xi Jinping will be staying.

Clampdown on protests ahead of Hong Kong handover anniversary

City on lockdown

Around 30 protesters gathered at the "Golden Bauhinia" statue on Wednesday, climbing on its petals and forming chain around its base. The demonstrators inside the flower were the last to be removed and were helped down by firefighters.

Clampdown on protests ahead of Hong Kong handover anniversary

Making their voices heard

The activists held a three-hour sit-in around the sculpture before police began leading them away one-by-one. Prior to the arrests, the demonstrators shouted: "Civil disobedience, no fear!" and "Xi Jinping, can you hear us?"

Clampdown on protests ahead of Hong Kong handover anniversary

Joshua Wong in custody

Student protest leader Joshua Wong (center) was among those arrested on Wednesday evening. Although other protesters were led from the scene, Wong lay down on the ground and was carried from the scene into a police van. He was one of the leaders of the Umbrella Movement in 2014 which saw mass rallies in Hong Kong. Their calls for democratic reforms ultimately failed to win concessions.

Clampdown on protests ahead of Hong Kong handover anniversary

Legislator Nathan Law arrested

Hong Kong's youngest lawmaker and former Umbrella Movement leader Nathan Law (center) was also carried away by police and remained in custody. The 23-year-old was elected to the legislature last year.

Clampdown on protests ahead of Hong Kong handover anniversary

Divided city

President Xi is visiting Hong Kong for celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of Britain's handover of the territory to China on July 1. But there are concerns that Beijing has been violating the "one country, two systems" deal by interfering in politics, education and media.

Wong and Law's political party, Demosisto, want Hong Kong to be independent from China, a position that has irked Beijing.

Independent judiciary?

During the 2014 pro-democracy demonstrations, which lasted 79 days, activists and students brought Hong Kong's financial district to a standstill. The Umbrella movement, as it became known, demanded free elections to replace a system where the city's chief executive — its highest ranking leader — is appointed by a pro-Beijing committee.

The former British colony has been governed under a "one country, two systems" agreement since 1997 when Britain handed the territory back to China.

Related Subjects

Under the deal, citizens have the right to freedom of speech and a partially directly elected parliament, as well as an independent judiciary.

Hong Kong's 20-year history since handover

1997: Historic moment

The handover of Hong Kong's sovereignty from the United Kingdom to the People's Republic of China took place on July 1, 1997. The territory on China's Pearl River Delta became a British colony in 1842 and was occupied by Japan during World War II. After Hong Kong's return to China, the political situation was described as "one country, two systems."

Hong Kong's 20-year history since handover

1999: No family reunions

Divided families, who had been split by the Hong Kong border, had hoped to be reunited after the territory's return to China. But with a daily quota of only 150 mainland Chinese allowed to settle in Hong Kong, many were left disapointed. This photo from 1999 shows mainland Chinese visitors protesting outside Hong Kong's Legal Aid Department after they were denied residency permits.

Hong Kong's 20-year history since handover

2002: Dashed hopes

The residency issue flared up again in April 2002 when Hong Kong began deporting some 4,000 mainland Chinese who had lost legal battles to stay in the territory. These desperate families were evicted from a central park where they had been protesting.

Hong Kong's 20-year history since handover

2003: The SARS pandemic hits

In 2003, the highly contagious SARS virus spread through Hong Kong. The territory was hard hit by the flu-like virus and in March, the WHO declared it a pandemic. This man attended Doctor Tse Yuen-man's funeral in May. Dr. Tse had volunteered to care for SARS patients and had contracted the virus herself. Hong Kong was declared SARS-free in June 2003. Almost 300 people had died of the disease.

Hong Kong's 20-year history since handover

2004: Rally for democracy

China's policy of "one country, two systems" has often created tension. In 2004, on the seventh anniversary of the handover, hundreds of thousands of people protested in Hong Kong, demanding political reform. They were calling for democracy and direct elections for Hong Kong's next leader.

Hong Kong's 20-year history since handover

2008: No place to live

Soaring property prices in Hong Kong forced rents higher. By 2008, it wasn't unusual to see people like Kong Siu-kau living in so-called "cage homes," 15-square-foot (1.4 square meters) wire mesh cubicles, eight of which were usually crammed into one room. Today an estimated 200,000 people call a wire cage, or a single bed in a shared apartment, home.

Hong Kong's 20-year history since handover

2009: Remembering Tiananmen Square

On the twentieth anniversary of the government's brutal crackdown in Tiananmen Square, Hong Kong residents gathered for a candlelight vigil in Victoria Park. It showed how different Hong Kong is from China, where the massacre of pro-democracy supporters and students on June 4, 1989, is usually only referred to as the June Fourth Incident.

Hong Kong's 20-year history since handover

2014: Occupy Central

Starting in September 2014, large-scale protests demanding more autonomy rocked Hong Kong for over two months. Beijing had announced that China would decide on the candidates for the 2017 election of Hong Kong's chief executive. The protests were referred to as the Umbrella Revolution, because protesters used umbrellas to fend off pepper spray and tear gas used by police.

Hong Kong's 20-year history since handover

2015: Sport becomes political

Less than a year after the Occupy Central protests ended, China played against Hong Kong in a soccer World Cup qualifiying match on November 17, 2015. The guests did not receive a friendly welcome in Hong Kong. Fans booed when the Chinese national anthem was played and held up posters saying "Hong Kong is not China." The match ended 0-0.

Hong Kong's 20-year history since handover

2016: Another bout of violence

In February 2016, Hong Kong's rough police tactics made headlines again. Authorities tried to remove illegal street vendors from a working-class Hong Kong neighborhood. They sent riot police, who used batons and pepper spray against protesters, and also fired live warning shots into the air. The street clashes were the worst since the Umbrella Revolution in 2014.

nm/jm (AP, AFP, dpa)