When HK’s most committed young people lose freedom for fighting for freedom, we know that HK’s long-standing “freedom without democracy” model is dead.
When lower courts mete out community service but government prosecutors appeal to give harsh jail terms to young activists, we know that the judiciary is not independent and that the executive now exerts overwhelming influence on judges.
Student leaders who started the Umbrella Movement are given 6 to 8 months of jail terms after a government appeal. Government prosecutors said that the attempt to storm the civic square deserved jail terms rather than just community service. At a public rally last night, they urged supporters to keep on with the fight while they still have freedom. (In Pictures: Continue fighting for Hong Kong if we are jailed, says Joshua Wong as democracy activists face prison)
Harsher sentences were handed down to thirteen protestors convicted of storming the legislative council in 2014 over a development project in northeastern New Territories. Protestors said the project had more to do with government-developer collusion than genuine development. A lower court took into account their “noble causes” and gave them community service. Government prosecutors appealed and the Court of Appeal complied, giving jail terms of between 8 and 13 months. (Protesters who stormed Hong Kong’s Legislative Council given jail terms after prosecutors pushed for tougher sentences)
In addition, the courts have also given harsh multi-year sentences to protestors convicted of throwing stones and bottles at police officers during the “fishball riots.”
What happens when a repressive regime sends the most committed young people to jail in large numbers? Going to jail is no longer a shame but an honor. When we look around at other movements around the world, the prison is like a political boot camp, toughening and radicalizing young people who will come out more determined than ever.
The Court of Appeal seems to have an extreme definition of “violence,” treating the students’ efforts to 重奪/seize/take back civic square counts as violence (which had been fenced in only in the summer before the outbreak of the umbrella movement). There is a deep concern that any bodily contact with the police, esp. if the protester is bigger and the police officer is skinny, would count as violence in the future. (上訴庭判詞保守 陳文敏質疑「暴力」定義推到盡)
The producer of a documentary on the 1967 riots (Vanished Archives) is drawing parallels between the British colonial government’s repression of leftwing protestors then and the Beijing/HK government’s repression of pro-democracy protestors today. (當政治凌駕法律 重看「六七暴動」案例)
It would be a mistake to think that the latest wave of repressive sentences would silence the youthful generation.
The parents of the convicted write open letters saying that they are proud to have such publicly spirited children.