Foreign politicians call for release of Hong Kong’s ‘political prisoners’ Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow
Call comes after city’s last colonial governor praises pro-democracy trio’s efforts
A group of foreign politicians, lawyers and activists has condemned Hong Kong’s jailing of three young democracy activists who stormed a government building, calling them “political prisoners” and demanding their release.
The call came soon after the city’s last colonial governor lauded the three men, and said their legacy could outlive even President Xi Jinping’s.
Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang were jailed for six to eight months for their parts in clashes at the government headquarters at Admiralty, in a prelude to the pro-democracy Occupy protests of 2014, of which they became key leaders.
Wong and Chow were found guilty of unlawful assembly, and Law of inciting others to take part in an unlawful assembly. Law and Wong at first got community service, while Chow was given a suspended jail term. But on Thursday the Court of Appeal sent them to prison instead, finding the earlier sanctions too soft.
The 25 international figures who came to the trio’s defence included former British foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, US congressman Christopher Smith, Canadian MP Garnett Genuis and Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives.
Their statement read: “We stand in solidarity with these three brave young men, we condemn [Thursday’s] verdict by the Court of Appeal, we call for it to be reviewed and for these three political prisoners to be released.”
They also urged “the international community to put pressure on the governments of the People’s Republic of China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to respect the principles of ‘one country, two systems’ and the Basic Law in Hong Kong”.
“One country, two systems” is the arrangement under which Hong Kong maintains semi-autonomy under Chinese rule. It is enshrined in the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.
In a separate development, Chris Patten told an audience in the UK that Wong, Chow and Law’s actions and incarceration would resonate with people for years to come.
According to the Edinburgh Book Festival’s official bulletin, Patten told an audience in the city on Thursday: “I think they will be remembered, and their names will be remembered, long after nobody can remember who I was, and perhaps nobody can remember who President Xi Jinping was ... We should be proud of what those kids are doing.”
Patten, now chancellor of Oxford University, was Hong Kong governor from 1992 until the city returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997. He drew Beijing’s ire for introducing political reforms in that time. He has continued to support local activists who fight for democracy peacefully, while warning against calls for the city’s independence.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the jailings were an internal affair, and that it “firmly opposes any external forces’ interference in Hong Kong’s internal affairs and judicial independence.”
Despite praise for the Occupy trio from abroad and from within local pro-democracy circles, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing camp has hailed the court’s ruling.
Speaking on a Commercial Radio programme on Saturday, the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee chairman Chan Kin-por, in an apparent rebuke of older pan-democratic politicians, said the young activists had been misled into thinking they would escape a jail term for storming the building.
He said: “The young people are dissatisfied because they did not expect such a [harsh] sentence, so we have to ask who are the people who gave them the impression … that they can fight for their ideals like that?”
He added that the Occupy protests caused a lot of woe and inconvenience for many Hongkongers.
But Chan did have praise for Law, who until recently was his Legco colleague. Last month the High Court kicked Law and three other legislators from their seats over incorrectly taken oaths.
Chan said the 24-year-old chairman of the Demosisto political party was a “polite” lawmaker who was willing to ask questions and respected him as the committee’s chairman.