US, Britain voice concern after Occupy leaders get jail terms

April 25, 2019 15:47
The Occupy defendants before receiving the sentencing. On Wednesday, a court handed jail terms to four of nine leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy protests. Photo: HKEJ

With some democracy activists sentenced to jail Wednesday for their role in the 2014 Occupy street protests, the international community has once again called for preservation of Hong Kong people's rights to freedom of speech and assembly. 

In a statement issued after prison terms were handed to four of nine Occupy leaders who were found guilty over public nuisance charges, the US Consulate-General in Hong Kong said the prosecution of the nine activists and the jailing of some of them is a matter of concern.

Such action could "stifle the exercise of the basic freedoms enshrined in the Basic Law”, it said.

It is important for Hong Kong to respect its residents’ rights of freedom of speech and peaceful assembly, the consulate said, pointing out that societies are “best served when diverse political views are respected and can be freely expressed.”

The British Consulate-General in Hong Kong, meanwhile, pointed out that freedom of speech and assembly were both guaranteed in the territory under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the pact signed between China and Britain in 1984 in relation to the future of Hong Kong, prior to Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule in 1997.

“It is important that these, and all other rights and freedoms which are guaranteed under the Joint Declaration, are fully respected,” the British consulate-general said. “It would be deeply concerning if the outcome for these individuals were to deter the people of Hong Kong from participating in peaceful protest in the future.”

In a statement, the European Union Office to Hong Kong and Macao said the sentencing will obstruct Hongkongers in exercising their right to peaceful assembly as well as realizing their wish for universal suffrage.

It is very important that the Hong Kong and Chinese governments work toward electoral reforms in Hong Kong in conformity with the Basic law, Hong Kong's mini-constitution, it said, adding that the system set up for the purpose should be democratic, fair, open and transparent.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council also issued a statement expressing concern over the prosecution of the Hong Kong democracy campaigners.

In a press release, the agency said the “one country, two systems” has failed to respect and protect people's political rights."

It called on "relevant authorities to adhere to their commitments under the Basic Law as well as the promise of Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong and a high degree of autonomy, which are the principle to truly observe the rule of law and the fundamental way to maintain Hong Kong's prosperous development."

China, meanwhile, slammed Western powers following their statements on Hong Kong, saying they had no right to interfere in Hong Kong affairs. 

Matters pertaining to Hong Kong are internal affairs of China, a foreign ministry spokesperson said at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Wednesday, adding that China firmly opposes any foreign interference.

Speaking to media at the airport before heading for Beijing to lead a delegation to attend the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, Hong Kong's top leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she would not be commenting on the jail sentences for the Occupy leaders.

The government respects all court rulings, she said, adding that she does not see how the cases can be construed as a threat to free speech, assembly and demonstration rights.

In related news, Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, suggested that the Department of Justice (DoJ) consider filing an appeal, saying the sentences handed to the Occupy leaders were not stiff enough.

The 2014 street blockades had caused suffering to the general public and also led to economic loss, Lee said. 

On Wednesday, a local court jailed four of the nine leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy protests.

After a trial that lasted nearly a month, HKU law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting and retired sociologist Chan Kin-man were each given 16-month prison terms.

Their fellow Occupy co-founder, Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, also received the same term but the sentence was suspended as the judge took into account his advanced age and years of public service.

Among others, lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun and League of Social Democrats activist Raphael Wong Ho-ming were handed eight months behind bars.

The remaining activists who had been found guilty were handed community service orders. 

A DoJ spokesman said it will take time to study the judgment, and that the department needs to consider whether to appeal against suspended sentences of some defendants.

Meanwhile, a lawyer representing the three Occupy founders said after the court ruling Wednesday that the trio will appeal against their convictions.

Chu also said on a radio program Thursday morning that he would appeal his conviction, and that he would need three to four weeks to consult his lawyers before making a move.

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