Hong Kong democracy leaders jailed over Umbrella Movement protests

Hong Kong activists open yellow umbrellas during a gathering to mark the fourth anniversary of mass pro-democracy rallies, known as the Umbrella Movement, on September 28, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 24 April 2019
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Hong Kong democracy leaders jailed over Umbrella Movement protests

  • The prison terms are the latest hammer blow to city’s beleaguered democracy movement
  • Nine activists were all found guilty earlier in April of at least one charge

HONG KONG: Four prominent leaders of Hong Kong’s democracy movement were jailed on Wednesday for their role in organizing mass pro-democracy protests in 2014 that paralyzed the city for months and infuriated Beijing.
The prison terms are the latest hammer blow to city’s beleaguered democracy movement which has seen key figures jailed or banned from standing as legislators since their civil disobedience movement shook the city but failed to win any concessions.
Nine activists were all found guilty earlier in April of at least one charge in a prosecution that deployed rarely used colonial-era public nuisance laws over their participation in the Umbrella Movement protests, which called for free elections for the city’s leader.
Their trial renewed alarm over shrinking freedoms under an assertive China which has rejected demands by Hong Kongers for a greater say in how the financial hub is run.
Two key leaders of the mass protests — sociology professor Chan Kin-man, 60, and law professor Benny Tai, 54 — received the longest sentences of 16 months in jail, sparking tears in court and angry chants from hundreds of supporters gathered outside.
Two other leaders — activist Raphael Wong and lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun — received eight-month sentences while the rest either had their jail terms suspended or received a community service order. One defendant, lawmaker Tanya Chan, had her sentencing adjourned because she needs brain surgery.
The jail terms are the steepest yet for anyone involved in the 79-day protest which vividly illustrated the huge anger — particularly among Hong Kong’s youth — over the city’s leadership and direction.
As Wong was led away by guards he proclaimed: “Our determination to fight for democracy will not change.”
Tai and Chan founded a civil disobedience campaign known as “Occupy Central” in 2013 alongside 75-year-old Baptist minister Chu Yiu-ming, who was one of the defendants to have his jail term suspended.
Their original idea of taking to the streets to demand a fairer system and the right to directly elect Hong Kong’s leader was a precursor to the student-led Umbrella Movement a year later that brought parts of the city to a standstill.
As the defendants arrived outside court Wednesday morning they were met by a noisy crowd of supporters shouting “Add Oil!,” a popular Cantonese phrase to signal encouragement.
Others sang “We Shall Overcome,” the gospel song that became an anthem of the civil rights movement in the United States.
“Stay strong and be positive,” a tearful Tanya Chan told the crowd.
Many supporters were holding umbrellas, an emblem of the 2014 protests after they were used by young protesters to defend themselves against police batons, tear gas canisters and pepper spray.
Joseph Lo, 59, was wearing a yellow T-shirt with the phrase “I was not incited” — a reference to the charges laid against the protest leaders.
“We were not incited by these nine people,” he told AFP, adding he hit the streets in 2014 because of the refusal to grant Hong Kongers universal suffrage and the police’s decision to fire tear gas at protesters.
While Hong Kong enjoys rights unseen on the Chinese mainland under a 50-year handover agreement between Britain and China, there are fears those liberties are being eroded as Beijing flexes its muscles and stamps down on dissent.
The city’s leader is elected by largely pro-Beijing appointees.
Authorities in Hong Kong and the mainland have defended the prosecutions as a necessary measure to punish the leaders of a direct action movement that took over key intersections of the city for many weeks.
But activists and rights groups have argued that the use of the vaguely worded public nuisance laws — and wielding the steeper common law punishment — is an insidious blow to free speech and a new tactic from prosecutors.
Judge Johnny Chan ruled that the 2014 protests were not protected by Hong Kong’s free speech laws because the demonstrations impinged on the rights of others.
During sentencing, Chan said the defendants had expressed no regret for the “inconvenience and suffering caused to members of the public.” He added that an apology was “rightly deserved... but never received” from the protest leaders.


Singapore celebrates Ramadan with bazaars and biryani

Updated 27 min 11 sec ago
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Singapore celebrates Ramadan with bazaars and biryani

  • The vibrant Kampong Glam neighborhood comes alive during the holy month
  • Sultan Mosque was designated a national monument in 1975

KUALA LUMPUR: Singapore’s Sultan Mosque is a focal point for Muslims in the cosmopolitan city-state and the vibrant Kampong Glam neighborhood comes alive during the holy month of Ramadan when people from all walks of life flock to its bustling bazaars.

Kampong Glam is Singapore’s “Muslim Quarter” with a mix of Malay, South Asian and Middle Eastern elements. Around 14 percent of Singapore’s 5.6 million population is Muslim, according to the latest official data.

Arab Street — an area that includes Bussorah Street, Haji and Bali Lanes and Muscat Street — is a hub for hipsters, vivid murals, Persian rug stores, shisha bars, perfumeries and textile shops, as well as being home to the distinctive golden domes of the Sultan Mosque. There is even an ornate archway welcoming people to explore the neighborhood and its distinctive shophouses, buildings that were used for working and living in. 

Situated in the heart of Kampung Glam, the Sultan Mosque is a historic landmark in Singapore. (AN photo)

“We are more like brothers and sisters, rather than businesses. I know most of the customers and they know me too,” a 36-year-old biryani hawker who gave his name as Nareza told Arab News as he served a line of hungry clients.

Nareza said his stall’s signature dish was mutton biryani, made from a family recipe handed down through generations from his late grandmother. 

FASTFACT

Around 14 percent of Singapore’s 5.6 million population is Muslim

“Dum biryani is a process of mixing meat and rice together in one pot, so the rice has a bit of the masala taste while the meat has a bit of the basmati rice fragrance,” he said, adding that he sold more than 300 portions of biryani a day. “I learned to make biryani from my father, who used to do charity work in the mosque. We make our own spices, we do not buy them from outside vendors. That is why the taste is different.”

The bazaar is packed with places selling food, drinks, decorations and homeware. The fare reflects Singapore’s international status, with eateries and stores selling kebabs, sushi and local Malay goodies.

A view outside of Sultan Mosque where tables are set for itfar under the large tent. (AN photo)

But Singapore has a reputation for being one of the most expensive cities in the world and having a fast-paced lifestyle, leading some to focus on preserving culture and heritage for future generations.

“We want to create awareness about the significance of Sultan Mosque to the Muslim community,” juice stall owner Riduan told Arab News, saying all sale proceeds were donated to the Sultan Mosque. “Arab Street is unique because you see a lot of different races coming here and it is also a tourist attraction. This is where we demonstrate we are Singapore society. Singapore is not just limited to skyscrapers such as Marina Bay Sands.”