HONG KONG: Thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday to protest against the jailing of three young democracy activists, with many questioning the independence of the Chinese-ruled city’s judiciary.
On Thursday, Joshua Wong, 20, Nathan Law, 24 and Alex Chow, 27, were jailed for six to eight months for unlawful assembly, dealing a blow to the youth-led push for universal suffrage and prompting accusations of political interference.
Thousands of people marched in sweltering temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius (86°F) to the Court of Final Appeal, carrying placards and banners denouncing the jailing of the activists.
Former student leader Lester Shum, who helped organise Sunday’s rally, said the number of protesters was the highest since pro-democracy protests in 2014 that paralysed parts of the financial hub for 79 days.
“This shows that the Hong Kong government, the Chinese Communist regime and the Department of Justice’s conspiracy to deter Hong Kong people from continuing to participate in politics and to protest using harsh laws and punishments has completely failed,” Shum said.
Protesters brandished a large banner saying: “It’s not a crime to fight against totalitarianism.” They shouted: “Release all political prisoners. Civil disobedience. We have no fear. We have no regrets.”
Ray Wong, 24, leader of pro-independence group Hong Kong Indigenous, said the issue is uniting government opponents.
“Since the Umbrella movement, the radical and milder forces walked their own path,” he said, referring to the 2014 democracy movement. “We’re now standing together. It is a good start.”
In Sunday’s protests, some signs said “Shame on Rimsky”, referring to Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen, who Reuters reported last week had overruled other legal officials who initially advised against pursuing jail terms for the three activists.
Wong and his colleagues triggered the 2014 mass street protests, which attracted hundreds of thousands at their peak, when they climbed into a courtyard fronting the city’s government headquarters.
They were sentenced last year to non-jail terms including community service for unlawful assembly, but the Department of Justice applied for a review, seeking imprisonment.
On Friday, Yuen denied any “political motive” in seeking jail for the trio.
The former British colony returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” agreement that ensured its freedoms, including a separate legal system. But Beijing has ultimate control and some Hong Kong people are concerned it is increasingly interfering to head off dissent.