Hong Kong democracy protesters freed

Alex Chow speaking to media after the judgment

Alex Chow speaking to media after the judgment

Hong Kong's highest court on Tuesday unanimously chose to free three young leaders of the Chinese-ruled city's pro-democracy movement, including the public face of youth-led protests, Joshua Wong, in a stark reversal of an earlier ruling.

"Maybe more and more activists will be locked up because of this harsh judgement", Wong, 21, told reporters on the courthouse steps after the decision.

But this non-jail sentence was challenged by Hong Kong's Department of Justice that pushed for a review, eventually leading the Court of Appeal to impose jail terms.

The jail terms were highly controversial and came after Hong Kong's Beijing-appointed government applied for harsher punishments.

Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow won their case in Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal after being handed jail sentences of six to eight months each by three Court of Appeal judges in August.

The five judges, including a non-permanent foreign judge, Lord Leonard Hoffmann, said in the judgment that they had "quashed the sentences of imprisonment" by the Court of Appeal.

The 2014 protests paralysed parts of central Hong Kong for several weeks.

Law said in a media briefing after the announcement of the verdict that he was saddened that the Court of Final Appeal had agreed with the Court of Appeal's determination that the storming of Civic Square, and the occupation - which became known as the Umbrella Movement - constituted violent actions.

For months, thousands of protesters held sit-ins on major roadways to call for open elections for Hong Kong's top official. The move was broadly seen as an attempt to sideline the popular young pro-democratic figures and intimidate other activists.

The three were initially sentenced to community service for their role in a demonstration that helped kickstart to Umbrella protests, during which tens of thousands of mostly young people flooded Hong Kong's financial and government center and brought the city to a standstill for months. They were disqualified because of previous statements on Hong Kong's status and whether it should pursue greater autonomy or even independence.

UN to probe Syria gas attacks but what about past ones?