Prominent legal scholar Eric Cheung has criticised the sentences handed down to pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam on Wednesday, saying the magistrate appears to have taken into consideration factors that she shouldn’t have.
The trio, who founded the now-disbanded political group Demosisto, were given jail terms ranging from seven to 13.5 months after pleading guilty to unauthorised assembly charges relating to an anti-government protest outside police headquarters on June 21 last year.
Cheung, from the University of Hong Kong's law school, said on Thursday that the sentences are disproportionate to the charges, noting there was no evidence that the crimes involved violence or a breach of the peace.
"Unauthorised assembly only means that you did not apply for a letter of no objection from the police according to the law. The nature of the assembly is still peaceful. This is important," he said on Commercial Radio.
The law expert said if prosecutors found evidence of a breach of the peace, and that the trio still knowingly took part, then they should have been slapped with charges relating to unlawful, rather than just unauthorised, assembly.
"If that was the case, then maybe these sentences could be justified," Cheung said.
He added that the magistrate appeared to have put the blame on Wong, Chow and Lam for some of the not-so-peaceful events that happened on the day.
Meanwhile, in response to the jail sentences, Amnesty International accused the authorities of political persecution. It demanded the immediate and unconditional release of the three activists.
"Once again, the government used the politically motivated charge of ‘inciting others to protest’ to prosecute people who have merely spoken out and protested peacefully," it said.
But the Department of Justice said it is "unbecoming and irrational" for people to make sweeping attacks against Hong Kong's judicial system without referring to the facts.
In a statement issued overnight, it noted that the three had pleaded guilty, and said it was "absurd" for anyone to demand their release.