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Umbrella Activists Jailed

By By Ben Byrne  /  August 23, 2017;

Activists (from left) Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow outside court on Wednesday. Photo: Dickson Lee

A Hong Kong court has jailed Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, leaders of the “Umbrella Movement,”the largest pro-democracy protests ever held in the city in 2014. The protests brought thousands of people onto the streets of Hong Kong between September 26 and December 15of that year. Though praised by the international media for their peaceful nature, the protests failed to bring about any changes to the political situation in Hong Kong.

Wong was branded as “the face of protest” by Time magazine in 2014 and has made regular international media appearances in the years since. In 2016 Wong, along with Law and Chow, established Demosisto, a pro-democracy political party which calls for a referendum to determine Hong Kong’s sovereignty after 2047, when the agreement signed in 1997 between Hong Kong’s former colonial masters Great Britain and China expires.

For their involvement in the 2014 protest the three men were initially given community service sentences which they duly completed. The authorities have now decided they should serve sentences ranging from six to eight months to deter them from any further activity. Wong’s last notable act of public dissent came in June when he was detained by police after climbing on the golden Bauhinia statue in Hong Kong to protest during a visit by Chinese premier Xi Jinping. Following his recent sentencing Wong tweeted: “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”. The three men will not be able to run for any political office for five years, as is the law, on account of being given prison sentences of longer than three months.

Wong, Law and Chowhave received widespread support from international observers. Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, called the action by the court “a craven political move to keep the trio out of the Legislative council, as well as deter future protests.” Marco Rubio, the United States Republican Senator who met Wong in Washington in November 2016, attacked the court’s decision as “shameful and further evidence that Hong Kong’s cherished autonomy is precipitously eroding”. Rubio’s interest in the subject is likely to stem from investments his donors have in Hong Kong and their desire to maintain the status quo.

In the aftermath of the sentencing, tens of thousands of Hong Kongers took to the streets to decry the jailing of Wong, Law and Chow. Some protesters held up placards during the demonstration, one of the largest in recent years, that said “Shame on Rimsky”, referring to Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen. Reuters reported earlier that Yuen had overruled other senior legal officials when they initially advised against pursuing prison terms for the three activists.


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