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Hong Kong court to rule later on 3 activists' prison terms

Last Updated Jan 16, 2018 at 2:00 am EDT

Pro-democracy young activist Joshua Wong talks to reporters in front of the Court of Final Appeal Hong Kong, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. Three young Hong Kong activists, Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, are making a last-ditch attempt to overturn prison sentences for their roles in sparking 2014's massive pro-democracy protests in the semiautonomous Chinese city. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

HONG KONG – Three Hong Kong activists will have to wait to learn the outcome of their final appeal Tuesday to overturn prison sentences for their roles in sparking 2014’s massive pro-democracy protests in the semiautonomous Chinese city.

Judges at Hong Kong’s top court said they would issue their decision at a later, unspecified date following the appeal hearing for Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow against the sentences of up to eight months. Bail for the three was extended.

The three were initially let off with suspended or community service sentences after they were convicted of taking part in or inciting an unlawful assembly by storming a courtyard at government headquarters to kick-off the protests.

But the case sparked controversy when the justice secretary requested a sentencing review that resulted in stiffer sentences, raising concerns about rule of law and fears that the city’s Beijing-backed government is tightening up on dissent.

The trio’s lawyers said the lower court overstepped its boundaries and put too much emphasis on the need for deterrence in handing down the revised harsher sentence.

“Laying down a heavy sentence will have a deterrent effect, but a balance has to be held between a deterrent and stifling young idealistic people,” Law’s lawyer, Robert Pang, told the judges.

Wong’s lawyer also argued that under Hong Kong law, the 21-year-old shouldn’t have been sent to prison because he was a minor at the time.

Speaking on the courthouse steps before the hearing, Wong estimated he had a 50-50 chance of going back to prison. “However I still believe that when people are united we will not be defeated.”

Wong made world headlines and starred in a Netflix documentary after leading the “Umbrella Movement” protests while still a teenager. The protests, which brought parts of the busy Asian financial hub to a halt over Beijing’s plan to restrict elections for top leader, ended without resolution after 11 weeks.

The three were given revised sentences ranging from six to eight months of prison time in last year’s ruling but were bailed partway through when they won permission to appeal.

Wong could end up back in prison as soon as Wednesday, when he is due to be sentenced in a separate court case also related to the 2014 protests.