Student leaders 'paid for what they asked for'

Top News | Phoebe Ng 21 Aug 2017

The three jailed student leaders were not victims of a political purge, but instead "paid for what they asked for," former Bar Association chairman Paul Shieh Wing-tai, SC, said.

The three - Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow - had already vowed to accept any consequence for their role in the 2014 Occupy movement, Shieh said in a Cable-TV interview.

But University of Hong Kong law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting has "a lot to answer for" as Occupy leader, Shieh added.

The Court of Appeal sentenced the three to prison terms of from six to eight months after prosecutors said the previous sentence of community service and suspended prison terms "were manifestly inadequate."

Pan-democrats slammed the resentencing as political persecution.

But Shieh said yesterday: "If you fulfill what you had promised - be fearless and accept the jail terms - the students will gain respect from more people."

He was referring to "fearless civil disobedience," a slogan often used by the youngsters.

"How could you simply dismiss the ruling as political persecution and drag the court in it, out of the blue?" Shieh said.

He said the decision of Court of Appeal Justices Wally Yeung Chun-kuen, Derek Pang Wai-cheong and Jeremy Poon Siu-chor was no different from other court rulings.

"In no way did the judgment change the game," Shieh said.

The three were previously convicted of illegal assembly and incitement for entering Civic Square, a fenced-off area outside government's headquarters at Tamar, and encouraging others to follow suit before the 79-day Occupy movement began in the fall of 2014.

Shieh said the resentencing ruling was "much less controversial" than the oath-taking ruling which disqualified Law and five other pro-democracy lawmakers.

"What's right or wrong in law is one thing. Whether the [government] always has to pursue that far is another," Shieh said of the disqualification.

As for the ruling to jail Law, Shieh said: "Once your actions crossed the threshold definition of violence, you no longer have the shield of leniency - whether you are expressing rights of expression or not."

Despite Justice Yeung citing violent protests as a "worrying trend," Shieh said his comments were "a bit emotionally charged and not often seen" in a common law ruling.

"His comments could potentially be misunderstood and played up by critics to accuse him of anti-civil disobedience," Shieh said.

The latest judgment also slammed "some people" - including the educated - for blatantly disregarding the law. "Sadly their arrogant and self-righteous attitude had badly impacted youngsters," Justice Yeung had written.

Echoing the judge's view, Shieh cited Tai .

"He had a creative interpretation of civil disobedience, full of theories and unrealistic expectations," Shieh said.

But Tai argued yesterday: "No one wants to be jailed, but activists know about the consequences."

On international media reports, including the New York Times describing the three as "prisoners of conscience," Shieh said: "That's none of their business. It would be no different from Chinese state media which slammed the court for jailing seven cops for beating an Occupy protester."

Executive Councillor Ronny Tong Ka-wah, SC, another former Bar Association chairman, agreed.

"It gives a connotation that the three students did not commit any crime, which obviously contravened the facts," Tong said.

Executive Council convener Bernard Charnwut Chan said international media may have gotten the "misconception" due to their unfamiliarity with the city's system.

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