IN a last-ditch attempt to overturn their prison sentences, Hong Kong’s leading democracy activists appeared in court on Tuesday in what is being seen as a litmus test for the independence of the city’s judiciary amid fears of mounting influence from China.
Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow were handed jail terms of between six and eight months after they were jailed in August last year for their role in the 2014 pro-democracy protests, dubbed the Umbrella Movement.
A lower court originally gave them community service orders and Chow a suspended sentence before the government intervened to impose a harsher punishment.
All three activists were later released on bail pending their appeal.
The involvement of the government in the judiciary process sparked concerns about Beijing’s growing influence over the semi-autonomous city.
Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, under a “one country, two systems” formula which guarantees wide-ranging freedoms and judicial independence unseen in mainland China.
In reality, however, fears of the creeping influence of Communist Party leaders in Beijing have been starkly exposed in recent years with the crackdown on activists and the abduction by Chinese agents of some Hong Kong booksellers who specialised in politically sensitive material. Beijing also played a role in disqualifying two pro-independence lawmakers elected to the city legislature.
Wong and Law’s political party Demosisto wants self-determination for the city and independence from the Chinese mainland.
“Now is the chance for us to be aware how the courts of Hong Kong will recognise, will position, the motivation of civil disobedience,” Wong told reporters ahead of the hearing at the city’s court of final appeal.
According to Channel News Asia, Wong said even if he was sent back to prison, he believed Hong Kong people would still keep fighting for democracy.
Despite the global attention, the months of protest that brought sections of the city to a standstill failed to win any concessions. But a number of leading campaigners have been charged in relation to the uprising.
Wong, who has become the international face of the pro-democracy movement, has been writing a blog throughout his fight for justice.
“Being locked up is an inevitable part of our long, exhausting path to democracy,” his September post reads. “Our bodies are held captive, but our pursuit of freedom cannot be contained.”