‘Heavy sentences may hurt confidence in courts’

A constitutional law scholar at the University of Hong Kong has questioned whether the sentences handed down to ten veteran pro-democracy activists last week have undermined people’s confidence in the judiciary.

Speaking on an RTHK programme on Monday, Johannes Chan said he spoke to people in the legal sector and quite a few of them thought the sentences were too heavy and the prison terms too long.

District Court judge Amanda Woodcock on Friday jailed former legislators Albert Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan, and Leung Kwok-hung, and Civil Human Rights Front convenor Figo Chan for 18 months for organising an unauthorised protest on October 1, 2019.

Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, ex-lawmakers Cyd Ho and Yeung Sum, and former League of Social Democrats chairman Avery Ng were jailed for 14 months; and former legislator Sin Chung-kai and activist Richard Tsoi received suspended jail terms.

“Many of those involved in the case have served the community for a long time, and they are rational and mild characters who always advocate peaceful, rational and non-violent [protests], but the starting point of the sentences are very high, and much higher than other unauthorised or illegal assembly cases in the past,” Chan noted.

“The court has the duty to maintain public order, but on the other hand it should also protect people’s basic rights,” he said. “And if the sentences deviate from society’s expectation, it would undermine people’s confidence in the courts.”

Chan said while organisers of a protest should take into consideration the overall social atmosphere at the time, “it seems quite unfair” to make them accountable for all the violence that had been committed by others during or after the assembly.