HONG KONG (AFP) - Jailed democracy activists Joshua Wong and Nathan Law were released on bail on Tuesday (Oct 24) pending an appeal against convictions for their role in the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests.
The jail sentences handed down by the city’s Court of Appeal in August came amid mounting fears that Beijing is tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city and that rule of law is being compromised.
Wong, 21, who became the face of the mass pro-democracy protests while still a teenager, was jailed for six months while Law, 24, was imprisoned for eight months.
They were granted bail at the Court of Final Appeal until Nov 7, the first appearance in the appeal proceedings.
A third activist, Alex Chow, who was jailed for seven months alongside Law and Wong, was not part of Tuesday’s hearing.
Wong’s father Roger, who has heavily criticised his son’s imprisonment, was at the court.
Supporters outside punched the air at news of the pair’s release. Lawmaker Eddie Chu said their release on bail was “encouraging news for supporters of democracy”.
“We need them out here with us to fight these battles,” he told AFP outside the court.
The Umbrella trio were found guilty last year on unlawful assembly charges for storming a fenced-off government forecourt known as “Civic Square” as part of a September 2014 protest calling for fully free leadership elections.
Their arrests sparked wider rallies which exploded two days later when police fired tear gas on the crowds, triggering demonstrations that brought parts of Hong Kong to a standstill for more than two months in an unprecedented challenge to Beijing.
Wong and Law initially received community sentences and Chow a three-week suspended sentence at a magistrates’ court over the Civic Square protest.
But Hong Kong’s justice department then sought to increase those terms, with prosecutors arguing they should receive harsher punishment.
The judgement jailing them in August said the court must “send out a clear message to society” that protesters must abide by the law.
Wong’s imprisonment prevented him from running for Hong Kong’s partially directly elected parliament, something he said he had wanted to do. He had been waiting to turn 21 to become eligible to stand.
Wong celebrated that landmark birthday in jail last month.
Wong and Law each offered cash bail of HK$50,000 (S$8,729) on Tuesday. They were required to surrender their passports, not leave Hong Kong and report to police once a week as part of the terms.
Wong has yet to be sentenced on a separate charge of contempt for obstructing the clearance of a major encampment during the Umbrella Movement rallies.
He has pleaded guilty to that charge.
Other activists previously sentenced on contempt charges have received sentences of up to three months.