HONG KONG • The Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong yesterday quashed jail sentences for 13 pro-democracy activists who stormed the city's Legislative Council in a dramatic 2014 protest.
The 13 were earlier sentenced to between eight and 13 months in jail after the government successfully sought to overturn a previous punishment of community service and seek harsher terms. They included pro-democracy activists, student leaders and villagers from Hong Kong's rural north-east who had been convicted of unlawful assembly for forcing their way into the territory's legislature.
The group was part of a larger protest against a government plan to redevelop the area for housing, which they said was being waved through without proper consultation. Their actions came weeks before the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement rallies which brought parts of Hong Kong to a standstill for more than two months.
Activists said they were "happy and excited" about the court result and denied using violence in the protest. "We had no intention at all to hurt anybody," said Mr Raphael Wong, one of the 13 protesters. All 13 were already on bail pending appeal.
Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong faced more restrictions and demonstrators would have to be "well-disciplined" in future, Mr Wong added.
It was the second time this year that the city's highest court released democracy activists who had been jailed, after their lighter original sentences were increased on appeal by the government.
In February, three leaders of the Umbrella Movement including student activist Joshua Wong won an appeal against their jail terms in a case seen as a test of the independence of the city's judiciary.
They had also originally been given community service or suspended sentences which later had been switched to jail terms.
Hong Kong has been governed under a "one country, two systems" arrangement since 1997, when Britain handed the territory back to China. The deal allows citizens rights unseen on the mainland, including freedom of speech and an independent judiciary.
But there are growing concerns that rights in the semi-autonomous city are under threat as Beijing tightens its grip.