Crowds rally in Hong Kong after activists jailed

Protesters gather at Statue Square to protest the jailing of Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, the leaders of Hong Kong’s ‘Umbrella Movement’, on August 20, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 20 August 2017
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Crowds rally in Hong Kong after activists jailed

HONG KONG: Thousands of supporters of three jailed young democracy activists took to the streets in Hong Kong Sunday to protest their sentences.
Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, leaders of the 2014 Umbrella Movement rallies, were sentenced to six to eight months in jail Thursday for their role in a protest that sparked the months-long demonstrations calling for democratic reforms.
People took on the summer heat to stream from the district of Wan Chai to the Court of Final appeal in the heart of Hong Kong Island, protesting the jail terms.
They held signs including: “Give back hope to my children” and “One prisoner of conscience is one too many” as they gathered in one of the biggest recent rallies the city has seen.
William Cheung, an engineer in his 40s, described the ruling as “the beginning of white terror” in Hong Kong.
“These young people are our hope for the future. We shouldn’t treat them like this,” Jackson Wai, a retired teacher in his 70s, told AFP as he teared up.
Rights groups and activists called the case against the trio “political persecution” and more evidence that an assertive Beijing is tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city.
The Beijing-backed Hong Kong government brought the case for harsher sentences against the three, saying previous non-custodial terms were too light and did not serve as a deterrent to activists undermining stability.
University student Ann Lee said the government’s efforts to overturn the previous sentences were “attempts to intimidate us from taking part in acts of resistance.”
Hong Kong enjoys freedoms unseen on the mainland after being handed back to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” deal, but there are growing fears Beijing is trampling the agreement.
The three jailed protest leaders were found guilty last year on unlawful assembly charges for storming a fenced-off government forecourt known as “Civic Square” as part of a protest calling for fully free leadership elections in September 2014.
Wong and former legislator Law, who was disqualified from parliament last month following Beijing intervention, had expressed their intentions to run for office in future elections, but will be prevented from standing for five years because their jail terms exceeded three months.
Wally Yeung, one of the panel of three judges that handed down the jail terms, said in a written judgment there had been an “unhealthy trend” of people in Hong Kong breaking the law for the sake of their ideals and having what he described as “arrogant and self-righteous ideas.”
Protesters stayed on until the evening Sunday as campaigners addressed the crowds and messages of solidarity were projected onto the building of the Court of Final Appeal.
Veteran activist and former lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, who was ousted along with Nathan Law, said elite officials including the justice chief understood the 2014 mass protests differently from judges of lower courts, who adjudicated on everyday matters in society and had decided on lighter sentences for the protest leaders.
“Those at the top — they are the ones who met with Xi Jinping during the July visit and were lectured by him,” said Leung, referring to the high-profile visit last month where the Chinese President delivered a hard-line message warning against challenges to China’s control of Hong Kong.
Lau Siu-lai, another unseated lawmaker, told supporters the court cases against activists in recent months sought to wear them out, bankrupt them and “push Hong Kong people into a state of heartbrokenness and giving up.”
Former colonial governor Chris Patten slammed the government’s move to persecute the activists.
“The names of Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law will be remembered long after the names of those who have persecuted them have been forgotten and swept into the ashcan of history,” wrote Patten in a letter to the editor at the Financial Times Saturday.
Wong, 20, is currently held in a high security prison for young male offenders. Law and Chow are at a maximum security holding center.


Malaysia detains Najib ex-aide in first arrest over 1MDB scandal

Updated 31 min 53 sec ago
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Malaysia detains Najib ex-aide in first arrest over 1MDB scandal

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian authorities have made the first arrest in a renewed probe into the multibillion-dollar scandal at state fund 1MDB, remanding a former aide of ousted prime minister Najib Razak to assist in investigations, Bernama news reported on Monday.
Malaysia’s new government led by the 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad reopened investigations into billions of dollars allegedly siphoned out of 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) after Najib’s administration lost a general election in May, fueled by anger over the scandal and rising living costs.
On Monday, a magistrate’s court granted an application by anti-graft officials to remand Najib’s former aide for a week to assist in their investigations into 1MDB, according to a report by national newswire Bernama.
The 42-year-old aide, described in the report as having worked for Najib since 2009, was arrested on Sunday night after giving a statement at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) headquarters in the administrative capital of Putrajaya.
Earlier this month, Malaysia’s new attorney general said his office was studying possible criminal and civil action in the 1MDB case, after receiving investigation papers on the state fund from the anti-graft agency.
Former prime minister Najib, who founded 1MDB, is the subject of a money laundering probe. Najib has consistently denied wrongdoing.
Najib, in some of his most extensive comments yet on the 1MDB scandal, told Reuters last week that he did not know if hundreds of millions of dollars that moved through his personal account was from 1MDB, and if money from the fund was eventually laundered to acquire assets globally, including yachts, paintings, gems and prime real estate.
Transactions involving 1MDB are being investigated in half a dozen countries, including the United States, where it has become the biggest case pursued by the Department of Justice under its anti-kleptocracy program.
The US Department of Justice has alleged in lawsuits that more than $4.5 billion from 1MDB was laundered through a complex web of transactions and shell companies, of which $681 million ended in Najib’s bank account. Najib says the money in his account was donations from Saudi Arabia, most of which he returned.
According to the US justice department, assets purchased using 1MDB money include a Picasso painting, luxury real estate in South California and New York, shares in a Hollywood production company and a $265 million yacht, and more than $200 million worth of jewelry — including a 22-carat pink diamond pendant and necklace.