Three of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy activists have been jailed for their role in the ongoing protests. Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, and Ivan Lam, aged 24, 23, and 26 respectively, have all been convicted of “unauthorised assembly”.
The activists were charged in court last month, for their participation in protests outside police headquarters in June 2019. In court, Magistrate Wong Sze-lai has been quoted as saying: “The defendants called on protesters to besiege the headquarters and chanted slogans that undermine the police force… Immediate imprisonment is the only appropriate option.”
These activists all began their campaigning in the “Umbrella Movement” of pro-democracy protests that started in 2014. The campaign comes in response to Beijing’s many violations of the agreement signed with the UK, prior to a handover ceremony in 1997. This “one country, two systems” agreement guaranteed Hong Kong autonomy and freedom of democracy for 50 years following it’s return to China. However, many worry that Beijing’s actions threaten Hong Kong’s freedom, and have begun campaigning to resist the changes made.
Among those speaking out against the recent prosecutions, UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab said “Prosecution decisions must be fair and impartial. Rights and freedoms in Hong Kong must be upheld.”. Representing human rights group Amnesty International, “These three activists have been jailed in violation of their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.” The group argues that the prosecution was intended to “send a warning to anyone who dares to openly criticise the government that they could be next.”
The arrests come following the introduction of a new security law, that makes it easier to prosecute campaigners in Hong Kong for speaking out against Beijing. This legislation has received widespread criticism. Just last month, eight more campaigners were arrested at protests condemning this law. In a joint opinion article for the New York Times, two more activists, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, stated that “If the world does not act resolutely to build a stronger alliance against the Chinese Communist Party’s increasing aggression, more activists will be sacrificed, and more essential democratic values, too.” In this article, they ask President-elect Joe Biden to increase political pressure on Beijing to protect the freedom of Hong Kong as an autonomous region of China.
This marks a key point in the fight for democracy in Hong Kong. Following the introduction of the new law, many pro-democracy political groups have broken up due to fear of the consequences of protesting. This includes Wong’s organisation, Demosisto, which he co-founded with Chow. However, the activists insist the fight is far from over. Wong’s lawyers posted the following statement made following his conviction to his Twitter: “We’re now joining the battle in prison along with many brave protestors, less visible yet essential in the fight for democracy and freedom for HK.”