Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung has rejected accusations that last week’s sentencing of three activists from the 2014 Occupy Central movement was politically motivated.
Yuen called the allegations “groundless” in an article he wrote, which has been published in several newspapers including the SCMP.
“Some of the comments display a lack of understanding of the basic facts of the case or our legal system,” he said. “The law in Hong Kong protects people’s fundamental rights, including the right to assembly, demonstration and freedom of speech. However, any exercise of such rights should be [done] in a lawful manner.
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“The defendants were convicted and sentenced for their unlawful conduct, not for their political ideas.”
Yuen’s comments came after an estimated 22,000 people took to the streets on Sunday to protest the August 17 ruling against Demosisto members Joshua Wong Chi-Fung and Nathan Law Kwun-chung, and activist Alex Chow Yong-kang. All three have been given jail sentences of between six and eight months for storming the Central Government Offices at Tamar in 2014, which triggered the Occupy Central protests that same year.
Many pro-democracy supporters say the ruling amounts to political persecution, and see it as causing severe damage to the right to freedom of expression and the rule of law in Hong Kong.
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Helen Wong, 18, from the University of Hong Kong, said she disagreed with Yuen. “The government is clearly trying to control the anger of Hongkongers, by silencing anti-government political figures and those that led the Occupy Central protests,” she said. “Yuen is just trying to convince people this ruling wasn’t politically motivated. I don’t believe that’s the case at all.”
However, Wong said she remained optimistic. “I think there are still people out there who’ll stand up for Joshua Wong and his beliefs.”
Others see some sense in what Yuen said. “People who engage in civil disobedience should be willing to accept the legal consequences of their actions, regardless of if the fight is right or wrong,” said Katniss Tsang, 17, from Carmel Secondary School. “I still believe in judicial independence and our judicial system.”