NEW YORK (December 3, 2020) – A Hong Kong magistrates’ court sentenced pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, and Ivan Lam to prison yesterday for their involvement in promoting a protest in late June of 2019, at the height of the leaderless anti-extradition law movement in Hong Kong. The three activists have been held in custody since November 23, and were denied bail as they prepare appeals.
The right to freedom of assembly is guaranteed under the Hong Kong Basic Law, as well as under both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the latter of which is incorporated into the Basic Law.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) believes that these politically-motivated sentences — with Wong at 13.5 months in prison, Chow at 10 months, and Lam at seven months — signal a further regression of fundamental freedoms and rule of law in the city.
“Hong Kong has devolved from a bastion of freedom to an authoritarian state with breathtaking speed,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “The imprisonment of Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, and Ivan Lam shows that the Chinese government is wasting no time in stripping Hong Kongers of their basic rights to freedom of speech and assembly. We stand in solidarity with the three activists and call for their immediate release.”
Wong, Chow, and Lam were all former members of the youth democracy group, Demosistō, which disbanded briefly before the national security law was implemented in July 2020. Oslo Freedom Forum speaker, Nathan Law, was the founding chairman of the group and is currently in exile. Hong Kong authorities have issued an arrest warrant on him for violating the national security law.
High-profile arrests in Hong Kong have been prevalent as the Chinese government seeks to make examples of well-known public figures and tighten its grip on the functions of Hong Kong’s formerly independent system of government.
In April, 15 pro-democracy activists and politicians were arrested for organizing last year’s protest movement. In August, Agnes Chow was arrested for violating the national security law and was released on bail a few days later.
That same month, Jimmy Lai, renowned media tycoon and founder of independent newspaper Apple Daily, was first arrested when the Hong Kong Police Force raided the offices of Apple Daily for alleged violation of the national security law. Just a day after the sentencing of Wong, Chow, and Lam, a government-appointed judge today denied Lai’s bail request and remanded him into detention on politically motivated charges. He is set to remain detained until an April 2021 court date.
As 2020 comes to an end, Beijing is likely to continue its tight grip on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The crackdown on activists and dissidents is expected to intensify, with greater government interference with Hong Kong’s judicial system and increased arrests under the national security law.
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