Press release

Hong Kong: Jailing of Prodemocracy Advocates Signals Deteriorating Rule of Law

Three youth activists were handed prison sentences for their involvement in a protest held in front of police headquarters last year, while the owner of a prodemocracy newspaper will be held in custody on fraud charges until at least next April. 

In response to the imprisonment of prodemocracy activists Ivan Lam, Agnes Chow, and Joshua Wong and the denial of bail to media owner Jimmy Lai this week, Freedom House issued the following statement:

“Beijing's unforgiving trampling on freedom and rule of law in Hong Kong has reached new heights this week with the months-long jailing of three young democracy advocates and 73-year-old media owner Jimmy Lai,” said Freedom House president Michael J. Abramowitz. “The sentencing of the young activists and Lai’s questionable pretrial detention until April 2021 are all the more heartbreaking because they are likely only the beginning of an unprecedented cohort of Hong Kong political prisoners, as more cases wind their way through the territory's increasingly compromised prosecutorial system.” 

“If there is any hope of stemming this repressive tide, democratic governments must redouble their efforts to assist Hong Kongers seeking freedom and justice, and multinational corporations must step up their guard and acknowledge the reality that Hong Kong's vaunted rule-of-law system is now only a shadow of its former self.”

Background:

On December 2, a Hong Kong court handed prominent prodemocracy advocate Joshua Wong a 13-and-a-half-month prison sentence. Agnes Chow, and Ivan Lam, who are also in their twenties, were handed 10-month and 7-month prison terms respectively. The three were imprisoned on charges relating to a June 2019 protest in front of police headquarters, which was considered an unlawful assembly.

That same day, another judge denied bail to 73-year-old Jimmy Lai, owner of the prodemocracy Apple Daily newspaper. Lai, who was previously arrested on suspicion of violating the territory’s repressive National Security Law, is accused of fraud in a case many see as an act of reprisal for his outspokenness; while individuals facing such charges are usually allowed bail, Lai will be held in custody until his trial begins in April 2021.

The detentions and sentencing of these individuals have been denounced by Amnesty International, as well as by UK and US officials. These four face other charges related to the prodemocracy protests of 2019, along with hundreds of other Hong Kongers. 

Hong Kong is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2020. The deterioration of the territory’s media and internet freedom is tracked in the monthly China Media Bulletin.