HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong's highest court freed pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong and Nathan Law on bail Tuesday pending an appeal of their prison sentences after they were convicted of sparking massive protests in 2014.
The pair were imprisoned after the justice secretary succeeded in getting an earlier, more lenient sentence overturned, raising concerns about political interference in the courts and dealing a setback to the movement for full democracy in the Chinese-controlled city.
The decision to release Wong, Hong Kong's most famous activist, and Law, a disqualified lawmaker, coincidentally came the same day China's Communist Party was ending a twice-a-decade congress in Beijing that expanded President Xi Jinping's power. Though the two events were unrelated, they highlighted the widening rift between mainland China and semiautonomous Hong Kong.
Wong, 21, and Law, 24, told reporters outside the Court of Final Appeal that they were granted bail until their appeals are heard on Nov. 7.
They said they were looking forward to having meals with their families after what Law said were some "uncomfortable times" during their two months in prison.
Even though they've been bailed, they said that it was unclear if their appeals will be successful and that they're prepared to go back to prison.
"There will be more occasions in the future when our group of young people will go to prison, but we will persist in keeping the faith and working together to fight for democracy," said Wong, who is also awaiting sentencing for a separate contempt case.
"The government can lock up our bodies but cannot lock up our minds," said Wong, who was sporting a prison-issued buzz cut. He added that their time in prison was a chance for them to strengthen their determination.
"The world is watching the result of the case," and what it means for rule of law and the "one country, two systems" principle that guarantees Hong Kong wide autonomy and civil liberties unseen in mainland China, Law said.
Broadcaster RTHK reported that Judge Geoffrey Ma required each to post 50,000 Hong Kong dollars ($6,400) for bail, surrender their travel documents and report to police once a week.
Wong and Law were originally given community service sentences that let them avoid prison after convictions for involvement in an unlawful assembly that kicked off the "Umbrella Movement" protests.
Hong Kong's justice secretary, however, requested that the courts review those punishments. In August, Wong was given six months in prison and Law received eight months. The move sparked fears that authorities were undermining the city's independent judiciary.
Wong gained fame, including a starring role in a Netflix documentary, because he was still a teen when he helped spearhead the 2014 protests against Beijing's decision to restrict elections that brought major Hong Kong thoroughfares to a standstill for 79 days.
Law, also a former protest leader, was elected to the legislature last year, becoming the city's youngest-ever lawmaker, but was disqualified from office after a government legal challenge.
Wong had expressed a desire to run for office, but the prison sentence prevents him from doing so for five years.
A third student leader, Alex Chow, didn't request bail in the same case.
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