UK politicians speak out in response to sentencing of HK lawmakers on Tiananmen Square anniversary
On the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, two ex-lawmakers have been sentenced in one of Hong Kong’s most controversial and political cases.
Baggio Leung, Yau Wai-Ching and their three assistants have been sentenced to four weeks in jail for ‘illegal assembly’ because they attempted to forcibly enter a Legislative Council meeting to retake their oaths as lawmakers, believing that they were entitled to do this. They were legally elected lawmakers at the time.
While Baggio Leung and his assistant are on bail pending appeal, Yau Wai-Ching and her two assistants have been imprisoned.
The sentencing has attracted criticism from UK politicians. Sir Malcolm Rifkind QC, the former UK foreign secretary said: "It is deeply disturbing that prison sentences have been imposed. It is difficult to believe that former lawmakers would have been punished by imprisonment for such relatively minor offences in other countries or territories where the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary are fully respected."
Crossbench peer Lord Alton of Liverpool said: “Imagine if a Member of Parliament were sent to jail for staging a protest inside Parliament? Sentencing elected lawmakers to jail for supposedly conducting an ‘illegal’ assembly inside the legislature is a major overreaction.”
The lawmakers were charged under a law called the Public Order Ordinance. The United Nations have repeatedly criticised the Public Order Ordinance for its vague definitions, highlighting that 'the Public Order Ordinance could be applied to restrict unduly enjoyment of the rights guaranteed in article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights'.
Their sentencing is part of a wider crackdown on the pro-democracy movement. Since the Occupy Central Protests of 2014, one in three pro-democracy legislators has been prosecuted by the government since the Umbrella Movement of 2014. More than 100 democracy activists and protestors have been prosecuted.
Benedict Rogers, Hong Kong Watch’s Chairman of Trustees said: ‘In Hong Kong, the law is being used to intimidate opponents, disqualify lawmakers, and limit freedom of expression. Lawfare is being waged to create political conformity. It is symbolic that this has taken place on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre because these politicised cases have a chilling effect on the pro-democracy movement, forcing people into self-censorship and silencing opposition.’