by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Getty Images
ARE THE DAYS of freedom for the Umbrella trio limited? Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, and Alex Chow have been released on bail pending an appeal set for January, a legal decision which surprised many legal experts. Wong, 21, faces a sentence of six months, while Law, 24, formerly Hong Kong’s youngest lawmaker in history, faces a sentence of eight months. Chow, who was originally planning on beginning a degree at UC Berkeley before his jail sentence disrupted his plans, is 27, faces a sentence of seven months. Unlike Wong and Law, Chow did not originally apply for bail, planning on serving his sentence before resuming his studies, but later changed his mind, citing optimism about his appeals. The trio had served two months of their sentences to date before being released on jail.
While the Umbrella trio, who were all key figures in the movement, originally received light charges, an appeal by Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuan led to more severe sentences. The jailing of the Umbrella trio is widely seen as an attempt by China to prevent future political dissidence from young people in Hong Kong in order to prevent any recurrence of the Umbrella Movement by making examples of prominent youth activists.
However, while for the time being, the Umbrella trio are now free, it remains to be seen whether they will be successful in their appeal. It is possible that China intends to jail the three again, possibly after the public spectacle of their appeal.
Even if their appeal is successful, the Umbrella trio still face more charges than the charges they were previously jailed on and could face jail time for these charges as well, possibly extending their jail time. As should go without saying, under Hong Kong’s current judicial system, firmly beholden to China, any trial faced by the Umbrella trio has the strong likelihood of simply being a show trial. It is also important to note that the Umbrella trio are far from the only youth activists in Hong Kong who have been jailed on charges related to public protest as part of a broader crackdown on activists demonstrating not only issues pertaining to eroding democratic rights in Hong Kong but issues such as land development and forced eviction. 13 other arrested activists are currently pursuing appeals now, although they have not been yet released.
Before the jailing of Hong Kong youth activists, this was preceded by the disappearance of Hong Kong booksellers from Causeway Books that published tabloid-style books critical of Chinese political leaders, following which they appeared again in China, making what seem to have been confessions, and the use of violence against youth activists by pro-Beijing mobs. As such, political dissidents against China in Hong Kong face the possibility of physical threats, kidnapping by the Chinese government, or persecution through the legal system. In retrospect, seeing as the Causeway Books booksellers were lower-profile figures than Umbrella movement youth activists, one wonders whether China first intended to use kidnappings as a trial balloon to see as to how measures to step up political repression would play out.
And the space for political freedoms in Hong Kong continues to shrink. China’s National Anthem Law was recently extended to Hong Kong, with China’s rubber stamp congress, the National People’s Assembly, mandating up to three years’ imprisonment for disrespecting the Chinese national anthem in China.
Previously, disrespecting the Chinese national anthem only mandated fifteen days’ administrative detention. In particular, this measure seems aimed at curbing the booing of the Chinese national anthem at sports games in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, Hong Kong government officials remain vague about how this law will be reinforced. Either way, many suspect subsequent measures to reinforce “patriotic education in Hong Kong.”
What next for Hong Kong, then? It remains to raise awareness of Hong Kong’s plight internationally. The outlook remains grim.