Democratic groups and human rights organizations from Hong Kong have condemned the detention of three prominent activists for their role in anti-Chinese protests in the semi-autonomous region, while Beijing continues to crack down on political dissidents.
Pro-democracy leaders Joshua Wong (24), Agnes Chow (23) and Ivan Lam (26) were detained on Wednesday for 7 to 13.5 months for their role in anti-government rallies last year.
They are the most significant sentences for pro-democracy leaders since the outbreak of protests against China’s political and legal assault on Hong Kong last summer.
All three have pleaded guilty to the charges. Some 100 supporters gathered in front of the court before the verdict was handed down, along with a smaller number of pro-Beijing demonstrators who demanded harsh sentences.
Pro-democracy groups and human rights organizations quickly condemned the sentences, which they described as the latest attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to crush the legitimate political opposition and destroy the “one country, two systems” agreement that has allowed Hong Kong more freedom than the mainland since the transition from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
In a statement sent to Washington by Newsday, Samuel Chu, the executive director of the Hong Kong Democracy Council, said: “Beijing and Carrie Lam are using the court to make an example [of the protest leaders and send the message]: ‘Obey or spend the best part of your youth behind bars.
“The CCP is ready and willing to maintain control and power at any cost, even if it means imprisoning and wiping out an entire generation of Hong Kongers,” Chu said. “I am inconsolable and outraged at the treatment and the immediate future of the trio – and thousands of activists like them”.
“But as Wong wrote from prison this week: ‘Cages can’t lock up souls’, and the movement grows stronger every time an activist is arrested, convicted and imprisoned. The HKDC condemns the harsh sentences and urges the United States and the international community to do the same.
Nathan Law, who along with Wong and Chow co-founded the now-closed pro-democracy organization Demosisto, told Newsday in Washington that the sentences were “devastating.
Law now lives in London, having fled Hong Kong after a draconian national security bill was passed this summer that criminalizes anti-government dissidents and threatens violators with life imprisonment.
“It is an absurdly high penalty, and the independence of the judicial system is in question,” Law said. “It shows that the court is once again becoming an instrument of repression in favor of the authorities, and the authorities are determined to imprison prominent activists to set an example”.
Chow still faces additional charges under the National Security Act, accused of collaborating with foreign powers; a charge that carries a maximum life sentence in prison. Chow told Washington Newsday in June: “It is never easy to fight against such a strong and powerful regime. But I really want to stay here and do something This could be our last fight.”
The national security law is so broad that further charges against all three could follow. Hong Kong’s courts are currently clogged with lawsuits against protesters. “Sentences could mount up,” the law says. “To be honest, I have no idea when the trio could get out of prison.”
“I hope the international community could speak out against this unjust conviction and demand the immediate release of the trio,” Law told Washington Newsday. “As Joshua said before he left the courtroom – it is not the end of the struggle. We must all hold on to our roles and resist. It is time to be more active in Hong Kong”.
Human rights groups are also pushing back against China’s persecution of pro-democracy activists. Amnesty International published a statement by its Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra, which she read out: “Once again, the government has used the politically motivated accusation of ‘inciting protests’ to prosecute people who have merely spoken out and protested peacefully.
“By targeting prominent activists from Hong Kong’s largely leaderless protest movement, the authorities are sending a warning to anyone who dares to openly criticize the government that he could be next.