Chief Executive Carrie Lam has defended the government’s decision to apply for a for sentence review after three pro-democracy activists were jailed over a 2014 protest.

The Court of Final Appeal on Tuesday allowed the appeals of Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, who took part in the Civic Square clash that triggered the Umbrella Movement.

Ted Hui. File Photo: In-Media.

The three activists initially received community service sentences for their unlawful assembly convictions, but the Department of Justice applied for a sentence review, seeking harsher punishment. They were jailed last August by the Court of Appeal, but the trio appealed and were released on bail later in 2017.

At a question-and-answer session on Wednesday morning, Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui said: “This Court of Final Appeal decision proves that it was completely wrong for the government to seek an appeal over the sentence. It also made several idealistic young people go to jail for no reason.”

“Do you admit that the government was wrong? Why are you taking young people to task, and those who are striving for democracy – is it your mission to put them in jail?”

Lam said that she had expected opposition lawmakers would come to such a conclusion with the judgment, but it was “not the truth.” She also said Hui and the opposition lawmakers saw the judgment in an overly simplistic manner.

Carrie Lam. File Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

“The fact is, the court did not – as Hui said – express the view that it was wrong for the Department of Justice to lodge a sentence review,” Lam said.

Lam said that the judgment recognises the principle of civil disobedience in Hong Kong. However, if certain actions are considered a crime, offenders cannot rely on constitutional rights such as freedom of expression to seek a lighter sentences, she said. Lam added that the judgment agreed with the Court of Appeal’s approach in seeking to deter future large-scale unlawful assemblies which involve violence.

Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

The judgment on Tuesday said the Court of Appeal was entitled to give sentence guidelines for such cases in the future, and that with “increasing incidents of unrest and a rising number of large scale public protests, it is now necessary to emphasise deterrence and punishment” for these unlawful assemblies.

Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said that – even though the court spared the trio prison time –  “the ruling sets the stage for sending future protesters to prison.”

“In light of increasing government efforts to clamp down on those critical of Beijing, this seemingly positive ruling may be remembered as the start of an even larger crackdown.”

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.