Three prominent young leaders of Hong Kong’s democracy movement were sentenced on August 17 to 6-8 months in prison. This comes as a major setback for the semi-autonomous Chinese city, which is struggling for greater political freedom under China’s Communist Party rule. In spite of this, support for the jailed students keeps increasing.
Joshua Wong, 20, the leader of the large street demonstrations from 2014, was sentenced to six months in prison. Back then, he and fellow participants had taken to the streets to demand freer elections for Hong Kong’s leader.
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As a result, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong on the weekend to protest the jail sentences of the three students.
Two fellow protest leaders, Nathan Law, 24, and Alex Chow, 27, were sentenced to eight months and seven months, each.
In the shadow of its most recent judicial decisions, Hong Kong faces losing its reputation as a haven of civil liberties and having a special status in China. The sentencing of the three young men puts them on the list of Hong Kong’s first prisoners of conscience.
Counter protests in support of the jailed students
The news about the three young men being sentenced brought multiple local groups together to demonstrate against the Hong Kong government’s and China authorities’ decision and its rising suppression. According to the organizers, the number of participants was the highest since the advent of the Umbrella Movement.
According to statements by Li Hanlin, from the Lingnan University Students’ Union, the recent decision clearly illustrates the Chinese Communist Party’s suppression. Li said: “They want to chase after or deter common folks and students from protests and demonstrations under the new Hong Kong Chief Executive.” Li previously stated: “I absolutely believe that this is a suppression from the Chinese Communist Party.”
The unelected Chinese government does not have a good standing among Hong Kong citizens.
“The Chinese Communist Party is a monster! It isn’t human. That’s my view. I see through it all. If no one comes out, it will treat you like slaves, like donkeys. But there is still a group of people in Hong Kong who do not want to be slaves. Youngsters have awakened. There is still hope for Hong Kong!” This is a statement by Hong Kong citizen Uncle Huang.
Despite the extremely hot weather, some parents even brought their children along, hoping to educate them about what was going on.
“We feel we have to support the newly sentenced thirteen people and the three prisoners of conscience. We hope to provide a land of freedom for our children. We have to tell them what is going on and bring them along through it all.”
A tweet from the recently sentenced student leader’s Twitter account expresses the way most Hong Kong citizens currently feel in their hearts.
They can silence protests, remove us from the legislature, and lock us up. But they will not win the hearts and minds of Hongkongers.
— Joshua Wong Chi-fung (@joshuawongcf) August 17, 2017
The strategy behind the madness
A Hong Kong-based scholar of Chinese politics, Suzanne Pepper, speaks of a “combined carrots and sticks strategy, plus ‘killing the chicken to frighten the monkeys’” that the authorities are using.
“It’s a two-part strategy aimed at targeting the leaders, making an example of them, showing the cost for all who might want to follow in their footsteps, and offering rewards to all who settle down,” Pepper said in a quote in The New York Times.
The hard sentences bestowed on the three students by lawmakers came from a decision of the three judges at the appeals court who, according to statements made by The New York Times, “were in agreement that tougher sentences were warranted in order to deter unlawful protests.”
“The freedom of assembly is never absolute,” said the vice president of the Court of Appeal in his judgment. He also added that “the court must uphold the importance of public order (even if that meant) ‘sentencing ambitious, idealistic young people to immediate imprisonment.'”
A future breeze
Many Hong Kong citizens were emotionally very moved by the sentencing of the three protest leaders. Despite the harsh sentencing, there are voices that call for Hong Kong to stay hopeful and look toward a future free of Chinese Communist political oppression.
“Do not give up on Hong Kong. We can still win,” said Mr. Wong, who among many others supports the cause for which the three students were imprisoned.
“I don’t know what will happen in the next 6 to 12 months, but I hope in 2018, when we are freed, we’ll see a Hong Kong with hope,” he further added.