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Jailing of Hong Kong protesters will further polarise already divided society, pro-democracy lawmaker says

Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching met with Lam this week and said the city’s chief is trying to distance herself from the issue

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 August, 2017, 8:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 August, 2017, 8:02am

The imprisonment of 13 young protestors and three prominent student leaders this week will mean even more broken ties between the government and the city’s youth, and will make it more difficult for the chief executive to mend rifts in Hong Kong society, according to a pro-democracy lawmaker and university academic.

Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang were jailed for six to eight months on Thursday for storming the government headquarters. It was the government’s second successful attempt in a week to seek tougher sentences for protesting activists.

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Although the sentencing reviews were lodged by the department of justice last year, the city’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who took office on July 1 this year, was destined to be affected by the “political bombs”, according to commentators.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching, who met Lam on Wednesday to discuss her first policy address, to be given in October, said Lam has distanced herself from the ruling.

Mo said she had raised the two legal cases in the meeting and Lam stressed that she believed in judicial independence. “I would not, and should not have played any part in that matter,” Mo quoted Lam as saying.

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But Mo was unsatisfied with Lam’s reply, given her post as the chief secretary for administration in the former government.

“It did not happen overnight ... She has known about it,” Mo said. “What Lam has done was too little, too late, I’m afraid. It is a judicial terror.” She believed the government had lost the trust of youngsters after the rulings, and it will now be harder for Lam to mend the rifts in society, as she promised to do in her election manifesto.

“I still hope she can make it clear that she will try her best to safeguard Hongkongers’ freedom and human rights in the coming policy address,” Mo said.

Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung agreed that society is becoming polarised, making it harder for Lam to untie the knots.

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“The ruling can work as a deterrent for outsiders of the democracy movements. But for the imprisoned student leaders and their teammates, their mistrust and [hate] for the government would only increase,” Choy said.

He added that the “moral aura” being put on the imprisoned youngsters would also boost their influence in the pan-democracy bloc, diminishing the position of moderate pan-democrats.

Democratic Party vice-chairman Lo Kin-hei agreed that it was hard for Lam to ease the social tension in the short period of time. “She has to show her tolerance and openness through actions,” he said.

But executive councillor and pro-Beijing lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin said there is little Lam can do.

“Lam does not need to deliberately please the pan-democrats, because these judicial proceedings were not started by her, but by the previous administration,” Wong said.

In addition to the three student leaders, thirteen pro-democracy protesters convicted of unlawful assembly were jailed for between eight and 13 months on Tuesday.

Lam’s office has not responded to requests for comments.

Additional reporting by Tony Cheung