Hong Kong Law & Crime Politics & Protest

‘A death knell for rule of law and human rights’: 25 int’l figures condemn jailing of Hong Kong democracy activists

A group of eminent international figures, including former British foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former leader of the UK Liberal Democrats Lord Ashdown, and Myanmar comedian and former political prisoner Zarganar, have condemned Hong Kong’s jailing of pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, and Alex Chow. On Thursday, the trio were jailed over their involvement in a clash which sparked the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests, following a successful appeal of their sentences by the Department of Justice.

The statement, signed by 25 public figures including parliamentarians, lawyers and civil society leaders from the UK, the US, Canada, Malaysia, Indonesia and Myanmar, described the verdict as “outrageously unjust.”

“The decision by the courts in Hong Kong to sentence three courageous, principled young men to jail yesterday is an outrageous miscarriage of justice, a death knell for Hong Kong’s rule of law and basic human rights, and a severe blow to the principles of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ on which Hong Kong was returned to China twenty years ago.”

See more: Hong Kong jails Joshua Wong and democracy activists over 2014 Umbrella Movement protests

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The signatories to the statement include, from left to right: former British foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom Lord Ashdown, the former president of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed, daughter of Indonesia’s former President Abdurrahman Wahid, Alissa Wahid, and Myanmar comedian and former political prisoner Zarganar. Photos: Foreign and Commonwealth Office UK; Wikicommons; Jaringan GusDurian/Facebook.

The statement described the three activists’ leadership of the 2014 sit-in at Civic Square. It took place after a week of class boycotts against the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress’s decision that Hong Kong’s leadership candidates must be vetted before a popular election. The sit-in ended with dozens of arrests of protesters inside the square, with police later using tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters. A 79-day protest occupying the main road around Hong Kong then ensued.

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Police surrounded student protests at the Civic Square on September 27, 2014. File Photo: Occupy Central with Love and Peace.

“At that time, the Hong Kong government described the demonstrations as illegal, invoking the Public Order Ordinance, which has been criticized by the United Nations Human Rights Committee for possibly ‘facilitat[ing] excessive restrictions’ to basic rights,” the statement read. “The law, which requires that processions involving more than 30 people and assemblies with more than 50 must apply for and receive a ‘letter of no objection’ from the government in advance, is incompatible with article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which applies to Hong Kong.”

The letter in full

Twenty eminent international leaders, including the former British Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed, Alissa Wahid, daughter of Indonesia’s former President Abdurrahman Wahid, and Myanmar’s Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, today issued a statement condemning the decision by the Court of Appeal in Hong Kong to jail three prominent pro-democracy student leaders, Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow.

The statement, signed by twenty respected public figures including Parliamentarians, lawyers and civil society leaders from the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, India and Myanmar, describes “the decision by the courts in Hong Kong to sentence three courageous, principled young men to jail yesterday” as “an outrageous miscarriage of justice, a death knell for Hong Kong’s rule of law and basic human rights, and a severe blow to the principles of “One Country, Two Systems” on which Hong Kong was returned to China twenty years ago.”

In addition to Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who served as British Foreign Secretary for the final two years before the handover of Hong Kong, from 1995-1997, and the former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed, himself a former political prisoner, the signatories include the former Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom, Lord Ashdown, the independent cross-bench Peer and human rights campaigner Lord Alton, the Chair of the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission Fiona Bruce MP and the United States Congressman Chris Smith, Co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

The statement was also signed by the Burmese comedian and former political prisoner Zarganar, Malaysian Member of Parliament Charles Santiago, the Co-Chair of the Human Rights Committee of the Bar Council of Malaysia Andrew Khoo, the Indian writer and activist John Dayal, Canada’s former Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific David Kilgour, former Canadian Senator Consiglio di Nino, retired United States Ambassador Grover Joseph Rees, former Australian member of parliament Janelle Saffin, Charles Tannock, Member of the European Parliament and Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, former chief prosecutor in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic.

The decision by the courts in Hong Kong to sentence three courageous, principled young men to jail yesterday is an outrageous miscarriage of justice, a death knell for Hong Kong’s rule of law and basic human rights, and a severe blow to the principles of “One Country, Two Systems” on which Hong Kong was returned to China twenty years ago.

Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law helped lead the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong in 2014 – one of the most peaceful and restrained movements of public protest the world has ever seen. Joshua Wong and Nathan Law have already served the penalties imposed by a court a year ago. Joshua Wong served 80 hours of community service and Nathan Law 120 hours. Alex Chow received a three-week suspended prison sentence a year ago. Yet the Hong Kong government decided to reopen the case and seek tougher punishments. Yesterday the Court of Appeal jailed Joshua Wong for six months, Alex Chow for seven months and Nathan Law for eight months.

Joshua Wong turns 21 in October, an age where he could be eligible to stand for election to the Legislative Council. However, his eligibility is automatically now removed as a result of a six-month jail sentence. Nathan Law, aged 24, was elected as the youngest ever member of the Legislative Council a year ago, but was removed from his seat earlier this year on the grounds that he failed to take his oath properly. Alex Chow is 27 and has recently completed his studies at the London School of Economics.

Yesterday’s verdict is not only outrageously unjust because these three young men had already served their sentences and because it strikes a severe blow to Hong Kong’s freedoms, but also because it robs three bright, intelligent, principled and courageous young men of more than half a year of their lives and potentially denies them a future in politics or other employment in Hong Kong.

The three student leaders were charged for leading a peaceful sit-in that triggered the 79-day pro-democracy Umbrella Movement in 2014. At that time, the Hong Kong government described the demonstrations as illegal, invoking the Public Order Ordinance, which has been criticized by the United Nations Human Rights Committee for possibly “facilitat[ing] excessive restrictions” to basic rights. The law, which requires that processions involving more than 30 people and assemblies with more than 50 must apply for and receive a “letter of no objection” from the government in advance, is incompatible with article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which applies to Hong Kong. Human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch have long urged Hong Kong authorities to revise the ordinance to comply with the ICCPR. According to Human Rights Watch, imposing new punishments on Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, who had already completed their sentences of community service, may violate article 14(7) of the ICCPR, which enunciates the principle of “double jeopardy” that no one shall be “punished again” for the same offense.

In a series of tweets Joshua Wong exhibited his courage even upon learning of his sentence. He wrote: “You can lock up our bodies, but not our minds! We want democracy in Hong Kong. And we will not give up. They can silence protests, remove us from the legislature and lock us up. But they will not win the hearts and minds of Hong Kongers. Imprisoning us will not extinguish Hongkongers’ desire for universal suffrage. We are stronger, more determined, and we will win.”

As former heads of government, Parliamentarians, lawyers and civil society leaders, we stand in solidarity with these three brave young men, we condemn yesterday’s verdict by the Court of Appeal, we call for it to be reviewed and for these three political prisoners to be released, and we urge 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.  Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law should be honoured, encouraged and supported, not jailed. Yesterday was a dark day for Hong Kong and it should be met with international condemnation.

“According to Human Rights Watch, imposing new punishments on Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, who had already completed their sentences of community service, may violate article 14(7) of the ICCPR, which enunciates the principle of ‘double jeopardy’ that no one shall be ‘punished again’ for the same offense.”

See more: In translation: The Occupy sentence review – why Hong Kong’s appeal court jailed Joshua Wong, Nathan Law & Alex Chow

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Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Natha Law. Photo: Facebook/Demosisto.

In addition to calling for the appeal to be reviewed and for the three political prisoners to be released, the statement urged the international community to place pressure on the Hong Kong and mainland governments to respect the principles of “One Country, Two Systems” and the Basic Law.

“Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law should be honoured, encouraged and supported, not jailed. Yesterday was a dark day for Hong Kong and it should be met with international condemnation.”

Full list of signatories
  • Jonathan Aitken – former Member of Parliament, Cabinet Minister and author, United Kingdom
  • Lord Alton of Liverpool – Independent Crossbench Peer, House of Lords, United Kingdom
  • Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon – former Leader of the Liberal Democrats, former UN High Representative in Bosnia, member of the House of Lords, United Kingdom
  • His Eminence Cardinal Charles Maung Bo – Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar
  • Sonja Biserko – human rights campaigner, Serbia, and former member of the UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea
  • Fiona Bruce MP – Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, United Kingdom
  • John Dayal – Writer and activist, India
  • Garnett Genuis – Member of Parliament, Canada
  • Andrew Khoo – Co-Chairperson, Human Rights Committee, Bar Council Malaysia
  • David Kilgour – former Canadian Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific, former Member of Parliament and Nobel Peace Prize Nominee 2010, Canada
  • Jung-hoon Lee – Ambassador for International Human Rights, South Korea
  • David Matas – human rights lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize Nominee 2010, Canada
  • John McCarthy – former Australian Ambassador to the Holy See
  • Mohamed Nasheed – former President of the Maldives
  • Sir Geoffrey Nice QC – former chief prosecutor in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, United Kingdom
  • Consiglio Di Nino – former Senator, Canada
  • Grover Joseph Rees – United States Ambassador (retired), USA
  • Sir Malcolm Rifkind – former Foreign Secretary, United Kingdom
  • Janelle Saffin – former Member of Parliament, Australia
  • Charles Santiago – Member of Parliament, Malaysia
  • Christopher Smith – Member of the United States Congress & Co-Chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, USA
  • Charles Tannock MEP – Member of the European Parliament, United Kingdom
  • Alissa Wahid – daughter of former President Abdurrahman Wahid and founder of the Gusdurian Network, Indonesia
  • Catherine West MP – former Shadow Foreign Minister, United Kingdom
  • Zarganar – comedian and former political prisoner, Myanmar (Burma).

 

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'A death knell for rule of law and human rights': 25 int'l figures condemn jailing of Hong Kong democracy activists