An international human rights watchdog has accused the government of attacking Hongkongers’ rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, following a police clampdown on at least nine leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests.
“This vindictiveness shows contempt for well-established freedoms in Hong Kong and will only lead to more political tensions,” Amnesty International Hong Kong Director Mabel Au warned on Monday.
Au questioned the timing of the crackdown, which took place just one day after former chief secretary Carrie Lam was elected as the city’s next leader.
“The authorities have had years to consider these cases,” she said. “[It] raises serious questions as to whether political manoeuvrings were a factor in the decision to bring charges now.”
Nine former leaders of the Occupy protests were told by police on Monday that they were to be charged with public nuisance. They will report to the Wan Chai Police Headquarters together at 7:30pm on Monday.
The Civil Human Rights Front will be staging a solidarity protest during that time outside the police station. They have called on the public to join the protest.
Lawmaker Tanya Chan, one of those targeted, said they are facing the common law charge of public nuisance, which carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. She added that a hearing will be held at the Eastern Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, though the time has not been decided.
Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam said Monday that she had no knowledge of the prosecution decisions and emphasised the independence enjoyed by prosecutors.
In response, Chan said the Department of Justice was part of the government, and that she believed incumbent leader Leung Chun-ying must have been involved in the decision. She said the surprise decision showed Leung enjoyed seeing a divided society.
Social welfare sector lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun, another leader targeted, called the prosecution “political cleansing.” He warned that the crackdown would not be conducive to mending social divisions, which Lam promised to do after she won Sunday’s small-circle leadership race with 777 votes.
The Occupy protests erupted in Hong Kong after Beijing decided that a 1,200-member nomination committee – likely stacked with Beijing loyalists – would vet chief executive candidates before a popular vote. Demonstrators occupied major thoroughfares in the city for 79 days.