Thousands take to the streets in Hong Kong to rally behind jailed activists

A demonstrator holds cardboard jail bars, as he protests for the jailing of student leaders Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, who were imprisoned for their participation of the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement.
A demonstrator holds cardboard jail bars, as he protests for the jailing of student leaders Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, who were imprisoned for their participation of the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG - Thousands of people on Sunday (Aug 20) marched to the Hong Kong government headquarters in the Central district to protest last week's jailing of activists Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, reported Hong Kong media.

The march started at Southorn Playground in Wanchai district and demonstrators held a rally outside the Court of Appeal at around 5.35pm, according to broadcaster rthk.

On Thursday, they were handed sentences of six to eight months by the Court of Appeal for their role in 2014's massive Umbrella Movement protests.

The court overturned previous non-custodial sentences saying they were too light and did not serve as a deterrent to activists who were undermining stability in Hong Kong.

Nine more pro-democracy campaigners - including the three "Occupy Central" founders who first called for residents to protest on the streets in 2014 - are due to appear in court in September over their part in the Umbrella Movement.

All face public nuisance charges which carry maximum sentences of seven years.

The Civil Human Rights Front is among those organizing the rally, and convenor Au Nok Hin said the sentences have polarised society.

Au said protestors wanted to convey the message to Chief Executive Carrie Lam that the government was responsible for asking the courts to impose tougher sentences.

Britain said it hoped the sentencing would not discourage "legitimate protest" in future. US politicians Marco Rubio and Nancy Pelosi condemned the judgement.

But Beijing defended the sentences. "Hong Kong people are fully entitled to rights and freedoms. But no one can use the excuse of so-called democracy and freedom to conduct illegal violent activities," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Friday.

Judge Wally Yeung said in sentencing that there had been an "unhealthy trend" of people in Hong Kong breaking the law for the sake of their ideals and having what he described as "arrogant and self-righteous ideas".

The justice ministry, which brought the re-sentencing bid, said the judgement could "provide guidance to future cases of similar nature", but insisted there was no political motive, according to an Agence France-Presse report.

Hong Kong’s No 2 official on Saturday (Aug 19) launched a strong defence of the city’s courts in jailing young pro-democracy activists, hitting out at “biased” reports by foreign media, and insisting the fallout would not harm the government’s efforts to reach out to alienated youth.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said judicial independence remained the cornerstone of the city’s success, reported South China Morning Post.

Although the sentencing reviews were lodged by the department of justice last year, Mrs Lam, who took office on July 1 this year, was destined to be affected by the “political bombs”, according to commentators.

Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy agreed that society is becoming polarised, making it harder for Lam to untie the knots.

“The ruling can work as a deterrent for outsiders of the democracy movements. But for the imprisoned student leaders and their teammates, their mistrust and [hate] for the government would only increase,” Choy told the Post.