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Hong Kong: Jailed opposition activists must be released

Responding to the prison sentences handed down today to opposition activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam in relation to protests outside Hong Kong Police Headquarters last year, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra said:

“Once again, the government has used the politically motivated charge of ‘inciting others to protest’ to prosecute people who have merely spoken out and protested peacefully.

“By targeting well-known activists from Hong Kong’s largely leaderless protest movement, authorities are sending a warning to anyone who dares openly criticize the government that they could be next.

“Even in protests where isolated acts of violence took place and public property was damaged, these should not be attributed to others or the organizers, or to the assembly in general.

“Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam now join the many others who have been sentenced to jail in connection with the 2019 Hong Kong protests – the vast majority of whom have been prosecuted despite their activities being entirely peaceful.

“These three activists have been jailed in violation of their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Their convictions should be overturned without delay and they must be released immediately and unconditionally.”

Background

Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam – all former members of the disbanded political party Demosisto – were today sentenced over their involvement in protests outside the main Hong Kong Police Force base in the city’s Wan Chai area on 21 June 2019.

Wong was sentenced to 13.5 months in jail, Chow to 10 months and Lam to seven months.

Wong had pleaded guilty to inciting and organizing an unauthorized assembly under Hong Kong’s Public Order Ordinance, while Chow and Lam admitted to the incitement charge. “Incitement” in this case refers to the defendants’ use of a megaphone to shout slogans during the protest.

Thousands of protesters gathered on 21 June last year in response to the use of rubber bullets, bean bag rounds and tear gas by police to disperse crowds during an earlier mass protest on 12 June. Some protesters in the 21 June demonstration threw eggs and covered the police building with graffiti, and an off-duty police officer was assaulted.

More than 10,000 people have been arrested overall in connection with the 2019 Hong Kong protests, and more than 2,000 have faced prosecution on charges such as “rioting”, “illegal assembly” and “possession of weapons”.

In June, 13 people including Apple Daily newspaper owner Jimmy Lai were charged with “inciting” others to join Hong Kong’s banned June Fourth Tiananmen anniversary vigil.

The charge has also been used to arrest people for mobilizing others to join unauthorized protests using the messaging app Telegram.

Hong Kong’s Public Order Ordinance has long been identified as not being in line with international standards.

Under the law, those wishing to organize a protest are required to obtain a “Notice of No Objection” from the police before an assembly may proceed. If an assembly or procession is not approved, the event is considered “unauthorized” and individuals organizing and participating in such activity can be subject to fines and imprisonment. In effect, the provisions of the Public Order Ordinance establish a system in which permission from police is required to stage a protest. This runs counter to international law in that state authorities cannot require prior approval, but only notification to help facilitate orderly assemblies.