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‘Harsh’ new sentences for peaceful protests stray from past verdicts, legal analyst says

Judicial sentences handed down on Friday for peaceful protesting were unprecedentedly harsh and strayed from verdicts of similar cases in the past, according to a legal analyst.

Edward Wong, a member of the legal analysis group Law Lay Dream, said civilized countries normally tolerate the inconveniences caused by peaceful protests. He noted that Judge Amanda Jane Woodcock issued punishments ranging from suspended sentences to 18 months behind bars, in the cases of nine activists charged with organizing and taking part in an unauthorized assembly in Hong Kong on August 18, 2019.

Wong said the protest in question was peaceful, and thus it was unproportional to set 18 months in jail as the starting point for sentencing. He noted an earlier case related to a more serious protest, in 2014, which occurred outside the legislature and involved violence, in which the starting point for sentencing was set at 15 months.

The new judgment was unprecedentedly harsh, and Woodcock did not give her analysis in her verdict as to whether the activists were exercising their right to protest peacefully, as the Court of Final Appeal has previously ruled in a separate case, according to Wong.

Wong said there was no logic behind the huge range of sentences as some former lawmakers were jailed, while some received suspended sentences. Former lawmaker Cyd Ho, a former justice of the peace, was jailed for eight months, but in a similar case on the same day, former lawmaker Yeung Sum was given a suspended sentence partly because he was the recipient of a Silver Bauhinia Star medal.

Those given suspended sentences included former lawmakers Martin Lee and Margaret Ng, who are barristers. Asked if their licenses would be stripped, Progressive Lawyers Group convenor Billy Li said they have to report their sentences to the Hong Kong Bar Association, which would decide on whether to hold disciplinary hearings for them.

Barristers’ legal licenses would be stripped if their behavior brought shame to the industry, or if they committed crimes that would harm their integrity, such as theft, Li said. It is too early to say if their licenses would be stripped, because they could file an appeal, Li added.

Some of the defendants in the case, including Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, Leung Kwok-hung and Au Nok-hin, are already in custody for a separate subversion case. After being formally jailed, they will lose some benefits including daily visits by family members. They may receive a minimum of only two visits per month from relatives.

They will no longer be able to have meals made by approved outside vendors or snacks bought with their own money or brought in by relatives. They will only be able to buy snacks from tuck shops inside jail with wages they earn from working.

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