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Undeterred for democracy

As a Hong Kong court sends four democracy activists to prison, their supporters vow to carry on the fight for free elections

Undeterred for democracy

Chu Yiu-ming speaks at an April 24 vigil at the Lai Chi Kok prison. (Justin Chin/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Hundreds of supporters gathered outside Hong Kong’s largest prison, Lai Chi Kok Reception Center, Wednesday night at a candlelight vigil for the four pro-democracy activists sentenced to prison earlier in the day. Supporters wore yellow shirts that read, “I was not incited”: Some of the activists were convicted of antiquated “incitement to incite” public nuisance charges, according to Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP). 

In attendance was 75-year-old Baptist Pastor Chu Yiu-ming, a co-founder of the pro-democracy Occupy Central organization and the subject of WORLD’s latest cover story. Chu was the only Occupy Central co-founder to remain free: A Hong Kong court sentenced two others, legal scholar Benny Tai Yiu-ting and former sociology professor Chan Kin-man, to 16 months in prison each. Chu was also convicted of public nuisance charges, but the court suspended his sentence for two years due to his age and public service record. This means that he likely will not serve time in prison.

Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

Chan Kin-man (left), Chu Yiu-ming (center), and Benny Tai on April 10. (Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images)

Chu said at the gathering that he would speak up for the jailed activists and continue their mission to bring free elections to Hong Kong, HKFP reported. 

International human rights groups view the sentences as a move to deter protests in Hong Kong, where the Chinese government continues to curtail freedoms. China has promised the former British territory that it would enjoy a high degree of autonomy until 2047. Yet the communist country has continually halted the development of democracy in Hong Kong and has punished activists who used civil disobedience to advocate for universal suffrage. 

“The peaceful advocacy of democracy practiced by the Umbrella Movement leaders should be commended, not criminalized or punished with imprisonment,” the U.K.-based human rights group Hong Kong Watch said in a statement. 

Lawmakers Shiu Ka-chun and Raphael Wong were sentenced to eight months in prison, while former student leader Eason Chung and retired lawmaker Lee Wing-tat also had their sentences suspended for two years. The youngest activist, 24-year-old Tommy Cheung, was ordered to fulfill 200 hours of community service. Lawmaker Tanya Chan’s sentencing was postponed until June 10 because she has a brain tumor that needs emergency surgery.

Even as leaders of the Umbrella Movement go to prison for standing up for democracy, activism in Hong Kong continues: Demosistō, a political group founded by former student leaders, announced it plans to hold a rally this weekend to protest Hong Kong’s controversial extradition law, which enable Hong Kong to easily hand over fugitives to mainland China.

The Hong Kong government proposed the legislation after a young woman from the region was allegedly killed by her boyfriend while on vacation in Taiwan last year. Police arrested the boyfriend in Hong Kong on charges of stealing the women’s property, but he faced charges for the murder only in Taiwan because Hong Kong doesn’t have an extradition agreement with Taiwan. 

Currently, to extradite a person to mainland China or another country lacking a formal agreement with Hong Kong, authorities must obtain the Hong Kong legislature’s approval. But the proposed law would require only Hong Kong’s chief executive to make the decision.

The Hong Kong Bar Association and journalist associations have criticized the proposal, fearing it will lead to self-censorship and erode legal protections. In late March, 12,000 people took to the streets to protest the extradition plan, yet the government pushed ahead. Only when the business community complained about the proposal did the government agree to exclude nine economic crimes from the law. 

Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo called it “disgusting” for the government to exclude only economic crimes, according to The New York Times. “How could you compartmentalize laws like this because you need to appease a certain sector?” 

As Demosistō leaders prepared to take to the streets again, they encouraged Hong Kong citizens to remember political prisoners and to “carry on the spirit of the Umbrella Movement—fighting against authoritarianism and determining the fate of our own city,” they wrote on the group’s Facebook page. “For history to declare our innocence, we must step forward to change history.”

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Shen Wei, a squatter and trash-picker, went viral after someone uploaded to the internet a video of Shen quoting classical Chinese literature. Suddenly a mass of livestreamers staked out his home to catch a glimpse of the “Vagrant Master.” He ran away after a few weeks of publicity to escape the crowds, but soon came back and set up his own video channel. He claimed that while he loves to read, he’s nothing special. “The simple truth is you read too little,” he told one interviewer.