During a recent visit to Hong Kong, the UK minister of state for Asia Mark Field said he saw no evidence of political factors involved in Hong Kong’s recent imprisonment of 16 pro-democracy activists for six to 13 months. Their charges related to unlawful assembly.
Here are ten political factors Mr Field may have overlooked:
1) Lengthy sentences: It is unprecedented in recent memory for anyone to be sentenced to such lengthy prison sentences for unlawful assembly, which is a nonviolent crime. Up to now, a typical sentence would be three weeks to three months.
2) UN and NGO concerns: Both the UN Human Rights Committee (which legally monitors Hong Kong under the terms of the ICCPR, to which Hong Kong is party) and Human Rights Watch have expressed concerns that the Public Order Ordinance (under which the 16 were sentenced to unlawful assembly) does not meet international standards and is open to arbitrary application by police, prosecutors and judges that may unreasonably restrict the right to freedom of assembly. Rather than addressing these concerns, the Hong Kong government is now using the problematic POO to apply for prison sentences for its political opponents.
3) Sentences served: All 16 defendants were originally sentenced to community service (except for Alex Chow who was given a suspended three-week sentence to accommodate his study in the UK) and had completed their sentences, after which they were re-sentenced, this time to prison.
3) Politicised judgement: The judgment of the presiding judge in the cases of Joshua Wong, Alex Chow, and Nathan Law was riddled with political statements which had little to nothing to do with their cases and indicated political bias. In addition, the judgment made repeated references to a risk of violence due to their actions, but their crime of unlawful assembly was a nonviolent crime, they were neither accused of committing violence by the prosecution in the original trial nor convicted of any violent crime. No violence occurred in the occupation of Civic Square except for violence committed upon demonstrators (including Joshua Wong himself) by police.
4) Appearance of bias?: The presiding judge has socialised with pro-Communist Party politicians in Hong Kong who have spoken out against the pro-democracy movement. In order to avoid the appearance of bias, he might have considered recusing himself from the cases
5) Beijing interpretation: In November 2016, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee issued an interpretation of the Basic Law over oath-taking which directly led to the disqualification by the High Court of six elected pro-democracy Legco members. It included Nathan Law, whom that same High Court just sentenced to prison. Prior to the NPCSC interpretation, he was given a sentence of community service by a lower court.
7) Legal chief involved?: The Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen, a political appointee, is reported to have overruled his prosecutors in making the decision to appeal the sentences of Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow – a clear sign there were political considerations involved at the top level of government. He refuses to confirm or deny this.
8) Double standards?: When 7 police officers were sentenced to prison for beating a prone, handcuffed demonstrator during the Umbrella Movement, pro-Communist Party organisations in Hong Kong made ad hominem attacks on the judge for being white (i.e. non-Chinese). The same presiding judge who just sentenced the 16 pro-democracy activists to prison granted bail to all seven police officers pending their appeals.
9) Waging ‘lawfare’: The Hong Kong government has currently 40 legal cases against 26 pro-democracy leaders. This pattern suggests a political motivation. A general democratic principle is that those in power should generally avoid using the law against political opponents. These cases certainly have profound and wide-ranging political implications.
10) Basic human right: To date, neither the Communist Party nor the Hong Kong government has been held accountable, legally or otherwise, for the continued denial of universal suffrage to the people of Hong Kong, though this is a basic human right, as articulated in the ICCPR, to which Hong Kong is party. Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow have been sentenced to prison for protesting the denial of this basic human right.
Many in Hong Kong hope that the UK expresses greater concern about these matters and takes them into consideration in determining the extent to which the Joint Declaration as well as the terms and spirit of “one country, two systems” are being upheld.