HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong's top court on Tuesday gave three young democracy activists, including Joshua Wong, a last chance to appeal prison sentences related to their involvement in huge 2014 pro-democracy protests in the Chinese-controlled city.
The Court of Final Appeal approved the request by Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow to appeal the months-long prison terms they received for their roles in an unlawful assembly that sparked the protests.
"It's really good news for us," Wong told reporters after the hearing, though he noted the "three of us still have the possibility to be put inside prison again a few months later."
The three were originally given community service or suspended sentences that let them avoid jail but those were overturned after the justice secretary requested a sentencing review. The move raised concerns that the city's independent judiciary was being undermined — part of broader tensions over Beijing's increasingly strained relationship with Hong Kong, which includes calls for independence on college campuses and football fans booing China's national anthem.
Wong said he hopes the appeal can clarify what extent the court should take into account the motive of civil disobedience when sentencing protesters.
The three filed their appeal bid to the Court of Final Appeal after a lower court rejected their request. The top court's three-member panel approved their application after hearing arguments for about half an hour.
The judges also extended bail for Wong, 21, and Law, 24, who were released two weeks ago after serving about two months so they could make their appeal. Wong faces the remainder of his six month sentence and Law eight months if their appeals fail.
Chow, who was given seven months in the case, was set free on bail for the appeal hearing, which the court scheduled for January. He had not requested bail earlier.
Wong was still a teenager when he helped spearhead the protests three years ago against Beijing's decisions to restrict elections for the city's top leader. He's the subject of a recent Netflix documentary that's been submitted for Oscar consideration. He still faces sentencing in a separate case that could send him back to prison.
Under the "one country, two systems" framework, Beijing promised to let Hong Kong maintain wide autonomy and civil liberties following its 1997 handover from Britain. Residents fear China's communist leaders are backtracking on the pledge.
Associated Press writer Kelvin Chan and videojournalist Josie Wong contributed to this report.