Tens of 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 territory’s judiciary.
Joshua Wong (黃之鋒), 20, Alex Chow (周永康), 26, and Nathan Law (羅冠聰), 27, on Thursday 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 temperatures above 30?C to the Court of Final Appeal, carrying placards and banners denouncing the jailing of the activists.
Former student leader Lester Shum (岑敖暉), who helped to organize Sunday’s rally, said the number of protesters was the highest since the “Umbrella movement” pro-democracy protests in 2014 that paralyzed major roads for 79 days.
“This shows that the Hong Kong government, the Chinese Communist [Party] 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.
Hong Kong police estimated 22,000 people had shown up at the height of the protest.
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 (黃台仰), 24, who leads the pro-independence group Hong Kong Indigenous, said outrage over the jailings was helping to unite the pro-democracy opposition camp that has been riven by divisions over the past few years.
“Since the Umbrella movement, the radical and milder forces walked their own path,” he said. “We’re now standing together. It is a good start.”
Some signs said “Shame on Rimsky,” referring to Hong Kong Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen (袁國強), who reportedly overruled other legal officials when they advised against pursuing prison terms for the three activists.
Wong and his colleagues triggered the 2014 protests, which attracted hundreds of thousands at their peak, when they climbed into a courtyard fronting the government’s headquarters in the territory.
They were sentenced last year to non-jail punishments, including community service for unlawful assembly, but the Hong Kong Department of Justice applied for a review, seeking imprisonment.
Yuen on Friday denied any “political motive” in seeking jail for the trio and the Hong Kong government rejected allegations of political interference.
“There is absolutely no political consideration involved. Further, allegations that the court is under political interference are totally unfounded and groundless,” it said in a statement late on Sunday.
The jail terms for Wong, Law and Chow disqualify them from running for the territory’s Legislative Council for the next five years.
Lau Siu-lai (劉小麗), one of six legislators, including Law, who were expelled from the legislature this year over the manner in which she took her oath of office, said the sentences were unreasonably harsh.
“It appears to be political suppression to strip away young people’s right to stand in elections,” she said. “I hope people will pay attention ... We need to protect Hong Kong’s rule of law.”
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