Hong Kong: Joshua Wong faces prison again as ‘slow drip’ of prosecutions takes its toll

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Hong Kong activists Nathan Law and Joshua Wong. There has been a massive uptick in prosecutions of protesters in the past year.

Wong’s circumstances are among the many dozens introduced by prosecutors towards pro-democracy protest leaders and lawmakers within the wake of 2014 demonstrations which shut down elements of town for months on finish.

These prosecutions, introduced by the Hong Kong authorities and supported by its Beijing masters, are having a chilling impact on dissent and scaring the younger protesters who had beforehand been the spine of the pro-democracy motion away from politics, observers say.

“Individuals who would in any other case be comfortable to affix in and participate at the moment are considering twice,” says Jason Ng, a member of the Progressive Attorneys Group, a stress group.

“(They’re considering) it is actually not price placing my profession in danger when the potential profit is near nothing.”

Kong Tsung-gan, writer of “Umbrella: A Political Story from Hong Kong,” Kong has tracked virtually 40 civil and legal circumstances towards pro-democracy figures, some of which have already resulted in imprisonment, fines, and disqualification from town’s parliament.

He informed CNN the dimensions and scope of the prosecutions, notably the robust sentences for these convicted, are “unprecedented.”

Prior to now, he mentioned, “it has been the case that one activist right here and one other there could be prosecuted, and maybe convicted of illegal meeting and the like, however the particular person would usually obtain a high-quality or a prison sentence not higher than three weeks.”

Antony Dapiran, a Hong Kong lawyer and writer of “Metropolis of Protest,” mentioned the “incessant gradual drip of authorized motion over the course of this 12 months has been… efficient in maintaining stress on activists who have no idea what and when the following authorities motion shall be, and (that’s) due to this fact having a stifling impact on their actions.”

A spokesman for Hong Kong’s Division of Justice mentioned “allegations of political prosecution or persecution are totally unfounded,” including the DOJ is “dedicated to safeguarding the rule of regulation and judicial independence in Hong Kong, as properly as maintaining legal prosecutions free from any interference.”

A protester holds up a placard during an "anti-authoritarian" march in Hong Kong on December 3, 2017.

Chilling impact

The sheer quantity of circumstances has seen town’s pro-democracy motion enter a repetitive and energy-sapping cycle of court docket hearings, protests towards the prosecutions, and vigils outdoors prison or judicial buildings.

Whereas tens of 1000’s took to the streets to protest the preliminary jailing of Wong and different protest leaders — together with Nathan Legislation, who was town’s youngest lawmaker till he was disqualified from workplace in July — demonstrations since have been considerably lackluster.

Round 1,800 individuals joined a march led by Wong Sunday, which he had billed as maybe his final half to protest along with his supporters earlier than he returned to jail.

Wong informed the South China Morning Submit he was “drained” and wished to get pleasure from his “final weekend” earlier than returning to jail.

“I am glad group of Hong Kongers walked with me in my final rally right now though not loads of individuals got here out,” he mentioned.

“It does not actually matter to us how many individuals got here out as lengthy as we did our greatest and supplied a possibility for our supporters to point out solidarity,” pro-democracy icon “Lengthy hair” Leung Kwok-hung — who was additionally disqualified from workplace earlier this 12 months — informed the paper.

Dapiran mentioned the prosecutions had been designed “to make the associated fee of dissent intolerably excessive, and to make particularly Hong Kong’s politically lively youth suppose twice about whether or not they’re keen to pay an more and more steep worth — jail, chapter, the impact all of which may have on future careers — to specific their political opinions.”

The 2014 protests had been largely pushed by highschool and college college students, who took to town’s streets in large numbers and camped out for weeks on finish. A small quantity of them went on to turn out to be lawmakers in 2016 elections. Of the circumstances Kong tracks, greater than 60% of these going through prosecution are underneath 30.

“They need to say, In the event you confront us, we’ll destroy your life,” Kong mentioned.

Hong Kong’s DOJ rejected the suggestion that it was prosecuting an unprecedented quantity of circumstances.

“The Occupy Motion is an unprecedented scenario which entails a big quantity of members,” a spokesman mentioned, referring to the 2014 protests. “The DOJ doesn’t deliberately prosecute extra individuals than it ought to accomplish that.”

Criminalizing speech

Whereas prosecutors have discovered themselves properly geared up to carry circumstances towards protesters, because of draconian legal guidelines inherited from the British colonial administration, Beijing has lately put stress on town to cross new laws additional tightening restrictions on speech.

Particularly, China’s authorities has taken a harsh line on advocacy of Hong Kong independence, with President Xi Jinping warning in a go to to town earlier this 12 months such speak was a “pink line” for Beijing.

In October, China launched a brand new Nationwide Anthem Legislation, which punishes those that “disrespect” the tune with as much as 15 years in jail. That transfer comes after Hong Kong soccer followers repeatedly booed and jeered the “March of the Volunteers” as it performed earlier than their worldwide matches.

Extra booing occurred at a World Cup qualifier towards Lebanon final month, and followers displayed banners with slogans like “Hong Kong is just not China.”

Whereas the Chinese language regulation presently doesn’t apply to Hong Kong, it’s being adopted into town’s statutes, and an modification to the unique regulation which might lengthen the punishment to a most of three years is being thought of by Beijing.

Worse to come back?

Hong Kong should settle for it’s half of “pink China” and led by the Communist Social gathering, a prime Beijing official mentioned throughout a go to to town this week, following feedback by one other central authorities consultant that Hong Kongers who problem the celebration “have brains made of granite.”
As Beijing takes a far more durable line towards dissent inside Hong Kong, many are fearful of the return of a proposed anti-sedition regulation which was defeated by mass avenue protests in 2003.

Article 23 of Hong Kong’s structure, Primary Legislation, calls on town’s authorities to “enact legal guidelines on its personal to ban any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion towards the Central Folks’s Authorities,” however thus far, repeated administrations have dragged their ft on doing so.

Hong Kong already has legal guidelines towards treason and sedition, however critics of Article 23 imagine the criminalization of subversion and secession might allow the prosecution of a variety of dissenting voices, notably those that advocate or endorse Hong Kong independence.

“Belief within the Hong Kong authorities, not even to say the (Communist) Social gathering, is so low that any introduction of Article 23 laws shall be considered as an assault on civil liberties,” Kong mentioned.

“In idea, Article 23 laws may very well be used to successfully outlaw a broad spectrum of the pro-democracy motion.”

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