Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong will see his combined prison sentences related to three convictions reduced by four months, shortening his time spent behind bars to 23.5 months after his appeal against a lower court’s decision was granted.

Court of Appeal justices Maggie Poon and Anthea Pang ruled on Wednesday that Wong’s sentence in connection with last year’s banned Tiananmen Massacre vigil would be slashed from 10 months to eight months. Of those eight months, six will be served consecutively to his other sentences, while two will be served concurrently, effectively reducing his sentence by four months.

Joshua Wong Demosisto
Joshua Wong, former secretary general of the now-disbanded political group Demosisto. Photo: Etan Liam, via Flickr.

Meanwhile, the second applicant Jannelle Leung had her appeal struck down. Leung was released in July 2021 after completing her four-month sentence.

The reductions means that 25-year-old Wong, who was taken into custody in November 2020, could potentially complete his almost-two-year sentence in March, based on conditions such as good behaviour. However, he will remain in custody awaiting trial as one of the 47 democrats facing national security charges.

tiananmen vigil june 4 victoria park (3)
The annual vigil at Victoria Park on June 4, 2020, to commemorate victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. File Photo: May James/HKFP.

Wong was jailed for three separate convictions related to pro-democracy protests and a banned Tiananmen Massacre vigil. He was sentenced to 13.5 months for organising and inciting an unauthorised assembly outside police headquarters in Wan Chai in June 2019, four months for taking part in an unauthorised assembly and violating an anti-mask law during a demonstration in October 2019, and 10 months for participating in an unauthorised assembly on June 4 last year.

The Tiananmen crackdown occurred on June 4, 1989 ending months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, died when the People’s Liberation Army cracked down on protesters in Beijing.

Unlawful or unauthorised

Defence council Steve Kwan argued that District Court judge Stanley Chan had inappropriately handed down Wong’s sentence based on reference to previous unlawful assembly cases. While both unlawful and unauthorised assembly carry the same maximum sentence of five years, they were different in nature, Kwan argued.

Sentencing for an unauthorised assembly conviction should consider the role of the defendant, such as whether they were an organiser, a convenor or an active participant, whereas an unlawful assembly conviction considers only participation.

While Wong faced a heavier sentence because he committed the offence whilst on bail and was a repeat offender and an active participant, the judge should only consider these aggravating factors once and adjust the starting point of his sentence, Kwan said. Wong should not be punished a second time using the same reasons to justify handing down consecutive sentences, he said.

janelle leung joshua wong legco demosisto primaries
Janelle Leung and Joshua Wong. Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

Prosecutor William Siu objected to the bid for appeal, saying that Wong committed the offence just four days after being released from jail for an earlier conviction. Wong “repeatedly disregarded the law” by committing crimes of a similar nature, which justified the District Court’s decision to hand down consecutive – instead of concurrent – sentences, he said.

He also argued that while all three of Wong’s convictions were related to pro-democracy protests, they were “distinct in nature and justified wholly consecutive sentences.”

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.