The Chinese government even doubled down on its position by warning against using “so-called democracy” to engage in “illegal violent activities”.
Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang were sentenced to six to eight months in prison on Thursday for their role in the 2014 rallies, according to South China Morning Post.
Wong and Chow were found guilty of unlawful assembly, and inciting others to join an unlawful assembly. In their defense, their lawyers have argued the trio engaged in non-violent activities.
Human rights advocates and supporters have pointed out that the Court of Appeal’s ruling is a clear indication of China’s continued efforts in keeping the semi-autonomous city under its tight grip. Observers believe that the decision posed a major setback for Hong Kong’s efforts in gaining any semblance of political freedom from the ruling Communist party.
Amnesty International called the ruling a “vindictive attack on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”.
Former British foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, U.S. Congressman Christopher Smith, Canadian MP Garnett Genuis, and Mohamed Nasheed, former President of the Maldives, were among the distinguished international figures who have expressed support to the three young leaders.
The group said in a statement:
“We stand in solidarity with these three brave young men, we condemn [Thursday’s] verdict by the Court of Appeal, we call for it to be reviewed and for these three political prisoners to be released.”
The group also called for “the international community to put pressure on the governments of the People’s Republic of China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to respect the principles of ‘one country, two systems’ and the Basic Law in Hong Kong.”
However, China has so far dismissed the international reaction and instead reiterated its stance on the issue with a statement from foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, reports Shanghaiist.
“Hong Kong people are fully entitled to rights and freedoms. But no one can use the excuse of so-called democracy and freedom to conduct illegal violent activities,” Hua was quoted as saying at a regular press briefing.
“I want to reiterate that Hong Kong is a special administration of China… China is firmly opposed to any external forces interfering in Hong Kong affairs.”
It is worth noting that having received jail terms of more than three months, the three are now effectively barred from running for Hong Kong’s elected parliament for the next five years.
Under the “one country, two systems” deal that it acquired after its handover back to China in 1997, Hong Kong has enjoyed freedoms not commonly found on the mainland. Many, however, are concerned that such freedoms are starting to become compromised.
Feature image via Youtube / Time