HONG KONG pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong walked free on Tuesday, as the city’s top court threw out the prison sentences handed to him and two other leaders of the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests.
The decision was made by a panel of five judges on Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal and is a stark reversal of an earlier ruling that saw Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow sentenced to between six and eight months.
They were originally sentenced to community service and suspended sentences, but an appeals court controversially upgraded that to prison time. At the time, Hong Kong’s Department of Justice argued the initial verdict was an insufficient deterrent, but many feared the influence of Beijing may have played a part in the harsher sentences. Tuesday’s decision quashes their prison sentences and reinstates the initial ruling.
SEE ALSO: Joshua Wong jailed again in Hong Kong
In a summary of the judgment issued to the media, the five judges unanimously said it had “quashed the sentences of imprisonment” by the Court of Appeal.
They stressed, however, that Hong Kong was a law-abiding society and that “future offenders involved in large-scale unlawful assemblies involving violence” will be subject to stricter guidelines laid down by the Court of Appeal.
Tuesday’s win is not the end for Wong as he’s currently out on bail appealing a separate conviction for contempt of court, also stemming from the 2014 protests.
Wong’s case was one of dozens brought against protesters and pro-democracy politicians since the 2014 demonstrations, which analysts say are designed to sap morale and dissuade other young people from taking to the streets.
In the past year or so, pro-democracy politicians have been disqualified from office, had numerous court cases brought against them, and prospective candidates have been barred from standing in elections to the city’s parliament.
On Thursday, Wong and his fellow activists were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, drawing the ire of China and Hong Kong’s leaders.
Senator Marco Rubio, one of the committee of US lawmakers who nominated the trio, said their “peaceful and principled commitment to a free and prosperous Hong Kong” was an “inspiration.”
Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with a guarantee of wide-ranging freedoms, including freedom of speech, but critics accuse Beijing of creeping interference in the city’s affairs and the government of toeing the Beijing line.
Additional reporting by Reuters