Activist Joshua Wong has said he was prepared to be handed a prison sentence on Thursday, as the Department of Justice seeks a harsher sentence for his previous conviction.

Wong and fellow activists Alex Chow and Nathan Law were previously convicted over their involvement in the Civic Square clash that led to the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests.

Wong and Chow were convicted of taking part in an unlawful assembly, while Law was convicted of inciting an unlawful assembly. Chow was given a three-week jail sentence with a one-year suspension. Wong was sentenced to 80 hours of community service, while Law was given 120 hours.

Joshua Wong. Photo: Commercial Radio screenshot.

Although they already completed their service, the Department of Justice applied for a review of the sentence at the beginning of August. It argued that the storming of the forecourt at government headquarters was planned, and that the court neglected the gravity of the offence.

In a separate government appeal on Tuesday, 13 protesters who opposed a controversial northeast New Territories development proposal were sentenced to eight to 13 months in prison for unlawful assembly. They were also initially handed community service orders, and already served their sentences.

Wong said they faced a similar appeal on Thursday.

“I am mentally prepared for immediate imprisonment. The jail sentence may be similar to the 13 months given to the protesters yesterday,” he said on a Commercial Radio programme on Wednesday.

Changes in sentencing

On September 26, 2014, the trio launched a protest to storm Civic Square, a closed square outside government headquarters which has a symbolic history for protesters. It was the site of class boycotts against a decision made by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, which stated that Hong Kong’s chief executive candidates must be vetted before a popular election. The police later used tear gas to disperse thousands of demonstrators, and a 79-day protest occupying the main road around Hong Kong ensued.

Policemen surround the students protesting at Civic Square. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The protesters insist that they adopted a non-violent principle, but judge Wally Yeung said in court that the name of their demonstration, “retaking Civic Square,” implied violent intentions.

Wong said their lawyers at the time told them to be mentally prepared.

“But I never thought that for the northeast New Territories case, they would be given more than a year [in jail]. In the past, punishments for unlawful assembly cases were fines, community service – even for jail sentences, they were between three weeks and three months,” he said.

“When the judge said ‘retaking Civic Square’ represented violent intentions – in the past, to determine whether violence was involved, [the court] would review tapes or the actual situation – but when the judge said the wording of your slogan represented violence, I have to gain a completely new understanding of Hong Kong’s judicial system and how we protesters can survive such a cold winter.”

Barred from participation

Wong, a year four university student, said he will continue studying to complete his degree if he was sentenced to jail.

Law was disqualified as a lawmaker by the court in July. He has yet to apply for an appeal. Should there be a by-election, it is uncertain whether he will be able to run.

Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Natha Law. Photo: Facebook/Demosisto.

Wong also said after a separate court hearing that he intends to run for a Legislative Council seat in the future.

If their jail terms exceed three months, the activists will be prevented from running in elections for public office – including the Legislative Council and District Council – for a period of five years.

Wong said young people are completely blocked from participating in or outside Hong Kong’s system.

“If you advocate Hong Kong independence, you can’t run for office. If you advocate civil disobedience, you will be like Nathan Law and ousted from the Legislative Council. If you want to advocate change outside the establishment, you go to jail,” he said.

“My question is: what does this government want from the young people of this generation?” he added. “As a protester who is going to jail tomorrow, I want to tell Hong Kong people: if the young people who are going to jail are not giving up, why give up at this moment?”

Alex Chow had planned to study a PhD programme at UC Berkeley.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.