HK Protest Leaders Given 6-8 Month Prison Sentences

Three young democracy campaigners were each given prison sentences for taking part in an “unlawful assembly” of Hong Kong government headquarters that marked the beginning of the 79-day “Umbrella Movement” protests of 2014. The three sentenced were Alex Chow, Nathan Law, and Joshua Wong—ages 26, 24, and 20; and sentenced to seven, eight, and six months, respectively—and all plan to appeal. All three had been sentenced to community service last year for their roles, but were given prison sentences on August 17 by an appeals court after pressure from the Beijing-backed Hong Kong government. The jailing of the three comes days after similarly escalated sentences for 13 other participants in the 2014 protests. At The New York Times, Alan Wong reports on the sentences, defense of them from the Hong Kong Department of Justice, and reactions to them from political analysts:

In a statement issued Thursday night, the Hong Kong Department of Justice defended its appeal for tougher sentencing as its legal right, adding that the three protest leaders “were convicted not because they exercised their civil liberties, but because their conduct during the protest contravened the law.”

Suzanne Pepper, a Hong Kong-based scholar of Chinese politics, said the new sentences were “part of a larger pushback by Beijing against Hong Kong’s democracy movement.”

“It’s a two-part strategy aimed at targeting the leaders, making an example of them, showing the cost for all who might want to follow in their footsteps and offering rewards to all who settle down,” she said in an email. “Sort of a combined carrots-and-sticks strategy, plus ‘killing the chicken to frighten the monkeys.’”

[…] The three judges at the appeals court were in agreement that tougher sentences were warranted in order to deter unlawful protests.

“The freedom of assembly is never absolute,” Wally Yeung, a vice president of the Court of Appeal, wrote in the judgment, adding that the court must uphold the importance of public order even though “sentencing ambitious, idealistic young people to immediate imprisonment” was not a judgment he made “readily.” [Source]

Following the sentencing, tweeted:

At The Guardian, Tom Phillips reports on the sentencing as “the latest setback” for Hong Kong’s democracy movement as Beijing continues to attack challenges to its rule in the semiautonomous region. Four elected pro-democracy lawmakers—including Nathan Law—have been barred from taking their seats on the Legislative Council for refusing to pledge support for a unified Hong Kong and China last October. In a speech in Hong Kong in June, alongside a military parade widely seen as an effort at intimidation, Xi Jinping declared that “any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security [….] or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses a red line and is absolutely impermissible.” In his report, Phillips rounds up reactions from Hong Kong democracy supporters worldwide:

“It smacks of political imprisonment, plain and simple,” said Jason Ng, the author of Umbrellas in Bloom, a book about Hong Kong’s youth protest movement.

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

“It is not a surprise but it is a shock. It is another blow for basic freedoms and the rule of law in Hong Kong,” said Benedict Rogers, the deputy chair of the conservative human rights commission.

[…] Ng, the author, said he believed the decision to jail Wong and Law was deliberately designed to stop them running for office later this year in local byelections. Their imprisonment was not intended to deter violence or social disorder but to crack down on “the willingness of young, idealistic people to engage politically”.

[…] Speaking on Wednesday night, Wong said he would not be silenced, even behind bars where he planned to spend his time reading novels, studying and writing columns about politics.[Source]

Following the sentencing of the three, CDT resident cartoonist Badiucao offered illustrated support of Joshua Wong and the movement. The banner to Wong’s left translates to “groundless”:

“Groundless,” by Badiucao for CDT.

Last October, Badiucao paid illustrated tribute to Wong after the activist was detained by Thai authorities at the Bangkok airport while en route to address a group of students in the city. Wong’s detention in Thailand kindled concern over the Thai government’s seeming willingness to aid Chinese authorities with cross-border detentions.

At Reuters, Venus Wu and James Pomfret report on the reactions of the three activists’ supporters on the ground following their sentencing, and round-up further criticism of the Hong Kong appeals court’s decision:

About 100 supporters later swarmed the prison vans taking the three away from court, shouting “shame on political prosecution” and waving yellow umbrellas, a symbol of the city’s pro-democracy movement, a Reuters witness said. At least one person was taken away by police.

[…] U.S. Senator and one-time presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, who heads the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said in a statement the “shameful” resentencing showed that “Hong Kong’s cherished autonomy is precipitously eroding”.

[…] International human rights organizations also slammed the jail terms.

“From the initial choice to prosecute these young democrats through to today’s hearing, these cases have been shot through by politics, not law,” China director at Human Rights Watch, Sophie Richardson, said in a statement.”

[…] 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. [Source]

At the Hong Kong Free Press, Jun Pang relays ten reactions to the jailing of Wong, Law, and Chow from prominent voices in the city, including several official statements from Hong Kong political parties:

Democratic Party of Hong Kong:

“Ever since Chief Executive Carrie Lam assumed office, she has said multiple times that she wants to repair the rifts in society… Whilst the government has not done anything practical to mend these divides, today we have seen an act of political persecution in which a group of young people who fought for real democracy and justice have been thrown into prison. The Democratic Party believes that the government is extremely shameful.”

Civic Party of Hong Kong:

“The Civic Party believes that this sentence, despite being lighter than that given to the Northeast New Territories protesters, exhibits the same principle: the government will stop at nothing in its use of appeal procedures and sentence reviews – what are, in effect, tools of legal terrorism – to deal with protesters and social movements opposed to the establishment. The appeal and jail sentence is a form of institutional violence and political suppression – it has ‘created’ the youngest group of since the handover.” […] [Source]

Ahead of the sentencing, Human Rights Watch called for the Hong Kong government to quash the three activists’ convictions, noting that in Hong Kong any party sentenced to over three months in prison is barred from running for a seat in the Legislative Council or District Council for five years. Both Joshua Wong and Nathan Law are founding members and leaders of the center-left pro-democracy political party Demosistō (香港眾志), established last April.

While the jail sentences do appear designed to dissuade street protest against Beijing, and to limit the three democracy activists’ participation in governance, another report from The Guardian’s Phillips notes how the creation of political prisoners this week may offer renewed legitimacy to the Hong Kong democracy movement:

But for [pro-democracy lawmaker Ray] Chan, and many others within the pro-democracy camp, the message is: we will not be cowed.

“It cannot make all of us keep quiet,” Chan vowed. “We still have hope because we have so many young people who are prepared to sacrifice their freedom to fight for democracy for our society.

“I want to make it more positive – a few months is not too long a period,” Chan said of his jailed friends. “Never give up!”

[…] In a statement, Wong’s party, , accused China’s president, Xi Jinping, of eroding the civil and political freedoms that Hong Kong was promised after its return to Beijing’s control and lamented the “immense humiliation” the government had inflicted upon their struggle for change.

But [British human rights activist Benedict] Rogers said that by turning the three men into political prisoners, authorities were giving them even greater legitimacy and boosting the very cause they were trying to undermine. “When you look throughout history at people who have become iconic figures, they’ve often done so because of spending periods of time in prison,” he said. “One only has to think of Gandhi, or Nelson Mandela or Aung San Suu Kyi, and countless others.” [Source]