HONG KONG, Oct 24 — Jailed democracy activists Joshua Wong and Nathan Law were released on bail this morning pending an appeal against convictions for their role in the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests.
The jail sentences handed down by the city’s Court of Appeal in August came as fears grow that Beijing is tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city and that rule of law is being compromised.
Wong, 21, who became the face of the mass pro-democracy protests while still a teenager, was jailed for six months while Law, 24, was imprisoned for eight months.
They were granted bail at the Court of Final Appeal until November 7, the first appearance in the appeal proceedings.
A third activist, Alex Chow, who was jailed for seven months alongside Law and Wong, was not part of the hearing this morning.
Wong’s father Roger, who has heavily criticised his son’s imprisonment, was at the court.
Supporters outside punched the air at news of the pair’s release.
Before the hearing, campaigners chanted “Long live the Umbrella Movement!” and “Shame on political persecution!”
The Umbrella trio were found guilty last year on unlawful assembly charges for storming a fenced-off government forecourt known as “Civic Square” as part of a September 2014 protest calling for fully free leadership elections.
Their arrests sparked wider rallies which exploded two days later when police fired tear gas on the crowds, triggering demonstrations that brought parts of Hong Kong to a standstill for more than two months in an unprecedented challenge to Beijing.
Wong and Law initially received community sentences and Chow a three-week suspended sentence at a magistrates’ court over the Civic Square protest.
But Hong Kong’s justice department then sought to increase those terms, with prosecutors arguing they should receive harsher punishment.
The judgement jailing them in August said the court must “send out a clear message to society” that protesters must abide by the law.
Wong’s imprisonment prevented him from running for Hong Kong’s partially directly elected parliament, something he said he had wanted to do. He had been waiting to turn 21 to become eligible to stand.
Wong celebrated that landmark birthday in jail last month. — AFP