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

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.


Myanmar rejects court probe into crimes against Rohingyas

This file photo taken on September 27, 2017 shows and aerial view of burnt villages near Maungdaw in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state. (AFP)
Updated 28 min 4 sec ago

Myanmar rejects court probe into crimes against Rohingyas

  • The court’s position is that because Myanmar’s alleged atrocities sent more than 700,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh for safety, it does have jurisdiction since Bangladesh is a party to the court and the case may involve forced deportation

YANGON: Myanmar’s government rejected the International Criminal Court’s decision to allow prosecutors to open an investigation into crimes committed against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
Government spokesman Zaw Htay said that Myanmar stood by its position that the Netherlands-based court has no jurisdiction over its actions.
His statement was the first official reaction since the court agreed on Thursday  to proceed with the case.
Zaw Htay cited a Myanmar Foreign Ministry statement from April 2018 that because Myanmar was not a party to the agreement establishing the court, it did not need to abide by the court’s rulings.
“It has already been expressed in the statement that the investigation over Myanmar by the ICC is not in accordance with international law,” he said in the Myanmar capital Naypyitaw.
The court’s position is that because Myanmar’s alleged atrocities sent more than 700,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh for safety, it does have jurisdiction since Bangladesh is a party to the court and the case may involve forced deportation.
Last year’s statement charged that the court’s prosecutor, by claiming jurisdiction, was attempting “to override the principle of national sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.”
The 2018 statement also said Myanmar’s position was that it “has not deported any individuals in the areas of concern and in fact has worked hard in collaboration with Bangladesh to repatriate those displaced from their homes.”
However, there still has been no official repatriation of the Rohingya, and human rights activists charge that Myanmar has not established safe conditions for their return.
Zaw Htay said that Myanmar has already set up its own Independent Commission of Inquiry, which was making progress in its investigations. He noted that the military as well had established a Court of Enquiry.
“If we find abuses (of human rights), we will take action according to the law,” he said.
An independent UN fact-finding mission that collected extensive evidence that it said shows that trials for genocide and crimes against humanity are merited declared earlier this year that justice could not be fairly served by judicial processes inside Myanmar. It said an international mechanism or process was needed for accountability.
Gambia, on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, filed a case on Monday at the International Court of Justice accusing Myanmar of genocide in its treatment of the Rohingya.
The International Court of Justice settles disputes between nations, while The International Criminal Court seeks to convict individuals responsible for crimes. Both courts are based in The Hague.