(TibetanReview.net, Aug21, 2017) – Thousands of people marched through the streets of Hong Kong on Aug 20 to protest against the jailing of three young democracy activists by the special administrative region’s apex court on appeal by the pro-Beijing local government. Braving the summer heat, the protesters streamed from the district of Wan Chai to the Court of Final Appeal in the heart of Hong Kong Island, protesting the jail terms, reported the AFP Aug 20. A group of foreign politicians, lawyers and activists had earlier condemned the jailing, calling the activists “political prisoners” and demanding their release.
Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, leaders of the 2014 Umbrella Movement rallies, were sentenced to six to eight months in jail on Aug 17 for their role in a protest that sparked the months-long demonstrations calling for democratic reforms. The court of original jurisdiction had earlier given non-custodial sentences to the trio, including community services.
However, the unpopular Beijing-backed Hong Kong government appealed the case for harsher sentences against the three, saying previous non-custodial terms were too light and did not serve as a deterrent to activists undermining stability.
The three jailed protest leaders were found guilty last year on unlawful assembly charges for storming a fenced-off government forecourt known as “Civic Square” as part of a protest calling for fully free leadership elections in Sep 2014.
The Aug 20 protesters held signs including, “Give back hope to my children” and “One prisoner of conscience is one too many” as they gathered in one of the biggest recent rallies the city has seen, the report said.
“These young people are our hope for the future. We shouldn’t treat them like this,” Jackson Wai, a retired teacher in his 70s, was quoted as saying.
The report said rights groups and activists called the case against the trio “political persecution” and more evidence that an assertive Beijing is tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city.
Protesters stayed on until the evening as campaigners addressed the crowds and messages of solidarity were projected onto the building of the Court of Final Appeal, the report said.
Veteran activist and former lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, who was ousted along with Nathan Law from Hong Kong’s legislative body for improper oath-taking, has said elite officials including the justice chief understood the 2014 mass protests differently from judges of lower courts, who adjudicated on everyday matters in society and had decided on lighter sentences for the protest leaders.
“Those at the top — they are the ones who met with Xi Jinping during the July visit and were lectured by him,” Leung was quoted as saying, referring to the high-profile visit last month where the Chinese President delivered a hardline message warning against challenges to China’s control of Hong Kong.
The report said Wong, 20, was currently held in a high security prison for young male offenders while Law and Chow were at a maximum security holding centre.
Earlier, following the sentences, a group of 25 international figures had come to the trio’s defence, reported scmp.com Aug 19. They included former British foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, US congressman Christopher Smith, Canadian MP Garnett Genuis and Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives. Their statement read: “We stand in solidarity with these three brave young men, we condemn [the Aug 17] verdict by the Court of Appeal, we call for it to be reviewed and for these three political prisoners to be released.”
They 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”.
Hong Kong supposedly enjoys freedoms unseen on the mainland after being handed back to China by Britain in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” deal, but there are growing fears Beijing is trampling the agreement, the report noted.