Hong Kong court frees 'umbrella movement' leaders

Court of Final Appeal says lower court "erred" in considering sentencing against Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow.

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". "At the same time it's not the time for any congratulations or celebrations".

The court quashed the increased sentences Tuesday finding that the Court of Appeal exceeded its authority in ascribing "a different weight to a factor properly taken into account by the sentencing judge in arriving at a sentence that is otherwise within the range of sentences appropriate for the offence".

The three activists were somber despite being freed, saying future activists could be unjustly punished for civil disobedience, even acts aimed at defending local rights and freedoms. But after the government's intervention they were jailed for between six and eight months by the Court of Appeal.

Another member of their Demosisto political party, 21-year-old Agnes Chow, was blocked last month from a March election by officials who said their party's political platform advocating self-determination or independence for Hong Kong violated the city's constitution. The government's vengeful pursuit of harsher sentences led to the trio being jailed, and it is right this has now been overturned.

A bi-partisan group of United States politicians including Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Chris Smith nominated "the entire pro-democracy movement" in Hong Kong for the coveted award.

Invalidating the sentences of imprisonment imposed by the Court of Appeal and reinstating those imposed by the magistrate, the court warned [press summary] that there is a new appellate guidance now in place from the Court of Appeal: "future offenders involved in large scale unlawful assemblies involving violence will be subject to the new guidelines rightly laid down by the Court of Appeal".

Wong lamented the latest ruling, calling it a "sugar-coated" and "harsh" punishment.

The three served roughly two months of their sentences before they were allowed out on bail.

The demonstrations, which continued for nearly three months, brought parts of Hong Kong to a standstill.

But the jailing of democracy activists, the disqualification of opposition lawmakers from the legislature at Beijing's request and the lack of answers over the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers who resurfaced in the mainland have fuelled concern.