NEW YORK—While the dismissal of the prison sentences against pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Alex Chow, and Nathan Law is an encouraging sign, the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal’s decision to affirm tougher sentencing guidelines for similar “unlawful assembly” cases is a troubling sign for the future of free expression and free assembly rights in Hong Kong, PEN America said today.

On February 6, democracy activists Joshua Wong, Alex Chow, and Nathan Law had the prison sentences in relation to their charges of unlawful assembly dismissed. The three prominent activists had been charged and sentenced in relation to their protest in Hong Kong’s Civic Square on September 26, 2014, an event which helped precipitate the Occupy Movement. The Occupy Movement, also known as the Umbrella Movement, was a mass civil disobedience campaign protesting the lack of democratic rights in the territory.

The Court of Final Appeal, in its decision today, also affirmed tougher sentencing guidelines for cases like that of Wong, Law, and Chow in the future, in which authorities allege the large-scale protests involved acts of violence. The Final Court of Appeal stated in its ruling that “it was appropriate for the Court of Appeal to say that […] it is now necessary to emphasize deterrence and punishment in large scale unlawful assembly cases involving violence.”

“We had hoped that today’s result would be cheering news not only for the activists and their families, but for the atmosphere for free political expression in Hong Kong,” said Summer Lopez, Senior Director of Free Expression Programs. “The dismissal of the charges against Wong, Law, and Chow is an encouraging and welcome development. However, we are gravely disappointed that the Final Court of Appeal also demonstrated it is more interested in ‘deterrence and punishment’ than in safeguarding the right to free assembly in Hong Kong.”

Wong, Law, and Chow had been sentenced to six, seven, and eight months in prison, respectively. The three activists were originally convicted and sentenced on these charges in August of 2016. However, Hong Kong’s Department of Justice argued that the punishment was too lenient, and twice appealed to the courts to impose a harsher sentence, leading to their re-sentencing in August 2017. PEN America has previously concluded that the August 2017 re-sentencing of Wong, Law, and Chow represented “a low point in Hong Kong’s commitment to freedom of speech and assembly.” In November 2017, PEN America featured activist Alex Chow as its monthly “featured case,” noting that Chow—along with others active during the Occupy Movement—was facing “legal punishment for exercising his right to freedom of assembly and expression.”


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. 


Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: [email protected], 646-981-0685