Thousands decry jailing of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists in ‘biggest protest since Occupy’
Demonstrators march to express outrage at sentences handed to former student leaders Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow
A march held in the blazing afternoon heat on Sunday to oppose the recent jailing of Hong Kong political activists was “the biggest protest since the 2014 Occupy movement”, according to organisers.
They said the turnout was higher than expected, but they were unable to come up with an estimate. Police put the figure at 22,000.
Led by pro-democracy groups including the Civil Human Rights Front, League of Social Democrats and Demosisto, crowds marched from Southorn Playground in Wan Chai to the Court of Final Appeal in Central, where a rally was held.
Many brandished yellow umbrellas – a symbol of the Occupy pro-democracy movement – while others donned mock prisoners’ outfits and makeshift cages over their heads.
They held placards branding the imprisonment of Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang last week as acts of “political persecution”.
The activist trio were given jail sentences of between six and eight months by the Court of Appeal for storming the Hong Kong government headquarters compound at Tamar during an illegal protest that triggered the 79-day Occupy sit-ins.
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Procession leaders, which included pan-democratic lawmakers and activists, held a long banner that read “no crime for fighting against a totalitarian government” as they shouted slogans calling for the release of the “political prisoners”.
Occupy student leader Lester Shum, one of the spokesmen for the organisers, said he believed the march was “certainly the biggest protest since Occupy in 2014”.
“The big turnout tells those in prison that they’re not alone. There are many Hong Kong people supporting them outside,” he added.
One participant, retiree Chan Cho-tak, said it was a shame the government had utilised legal means to suppress young activists. “The judges were wrong to send them to jail. What the young people did was for the good of Hong Kong.”
Another marcher, office worker Chu Ming-tak, 24, said the ruling had made him lose confidence in the city’s judiciary. “I hope the higher court can rectify the mistake,” he added.
Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said the guilty verdict for the activists was expected but that public fury was caused by what some felt was a harsh punishment, prompting more people to take to the streets in protest.
The Court of Appeal’s decision to jail Wong, Law and Chow marked a victory for the government, which had appealed to have tougher punishments imposed after a lower court last year gave the trio community service or suspended jail terms.
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Separately, public prosecutors also succeeded in revising the punishments for 13 activists involved in a protest at the city’s legislature against a development project in Hong Kong’s northeastern New Territories in June 2014.
Joining Sunday’s march was former Civic Party legislator Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee. She said criticism of the sentences was not a personal attack on judges.
The criticism was aimed at Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung and the Department of Justice, she said.
She rejected claims that there had been no political considerations in the court rulings. “You can’t prove there were none, either,” Ng said.
A government spokesman said any allegations of political interference in the courts were unsubstantiated and groundless and that the court’s judgment had sufficient legal justification.
Additional reporting by Phila Siu