Sentencing of Young Democracy Activists Is ‘Political Payback’

A 2013 file image of Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong.  (Image: Pacific Chillino via flickr/CC BY 2.0 )
A 2013 file image of Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong. (Image: Pacific Chillino via flickr/CC BY 2.0 )

A decision by a Hong Kong appeals court to jail three young democracy activists has been met with a barrage of criticism from around the world.

The court’s re-sentencing of Alex Chow, 26, Joshua Wong, 20, and Nathan Law, 24, on August 17 to 6-8 months for unlawful assembly has been widely condemned, especially considering they had already served lighter punishments for participating in the 2014 pro-democracy protests. The Hong Kong government appealed that decision, saying it was too lenient.

Some 50,000 people came out onto the streets of Hong Kong on Aug. 20 to protest the re-sentencing.

Rights groups were likewise quick to censure the re-sentencing, with Amnesty International calling it a spiteful attack on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

“The relentless and vindictive pursuit of student leaders using vague charges smacks of political payback by the authorities,” said Mabel Au, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong.

“The real danger to the rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Hong Kong is the authorities’ continued persecution of prominent democracy activists. Prosecutions aimed at deterring participation in peaceful protests must be dropped.”

Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch, had similar sentiments.

“Hong Kong authorities should never have prosecuted these three student leaders for peaceful protests in the first place,” said Richardson.

“The justice department’s outlandish application seeking jail time is not about public order, but is instead a craven political move to keep the trio out of the Legislative Council, as well as deter future protests.”

Twenty former heads of government, parliamentarians, and religious leaders were also critical of the re-sentencing.

“[The] verdict is not only outrageously unjust because these three young men had already served their sentences and because it strikes a severe blow to Hong Kong’s freedoms, but also because it robs three bright, intelligent, principled, and courageous young men of more than half a year of their lives and potentially denies them a future in politics or other employment in Hong Kong,” said the statement, which included signees such as U.K. lawmaker Fiona Bruce, who is the chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, U.S. Congressman Christopher Smith, and clergyman Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar.

The statement also urged the “international community to put pressure on the governments of the People’s Republic of China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to respect the principles of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and the Basic Law in Hong Kong.”

Senator Marco Rubio, chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said that the three young men are pro-democracy champions worthy of admiration, not criminals deserving jail time.

“The political prosecutions and resentencing of these young people is shameful and further evidence that Hong Kong’s cherished autonomy is precipitously eroding,” said Rubio.

“Beijing’s heavy hand is on display for all to see as they attempt to crush the next generation of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.”

U.S. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi released a statement saying that the three young men were unjustly resentenced.

“Since the Umbrella Movement, so bravely led by Joshua and his fellow activists, China has accelerated its human rights crackdown and abandoned any pretense of honoring its pledge of sovereignty,” said Pelosi.

“Yet, despite China’s barrage of attacks on the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong, it is clear that the democracy movement will continue stronger than ever.”

Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong when it was a British colony, told an audience at the Edinburgh Book Festival according to Reuters: “We should be proud of what those kids are doing.

“I think they will be remembered, and their names will be remembered, long after nobody can remember who I was, and perhaps nobody can remember who President Xi Jinping was.”

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