LONDON—Britain’s foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said on April 25 the jailing of four leaders of Hong Kong’s 2014 pro-democracy protests was deeply disappointing.
The sentencing of the activists followed a near month-long trial that was closely watched as China’s Communist Party leaders have put Hong Kong’s autonomy under increasing strain.
Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” principle, with the guarantee of a high degree of autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed elsewhere in China.
“The sentences handed to the ‘Occupy’ activists in Hong Kong are deeply disappointing,” Hunt said on Twitter. “One Country Two Systems and the Joint Declaration are about respect for civil and political freedoms.”
Law professor Benny Tai, 54, and retired sociologist Chan Kin-man, 60, were both jailed for 16 months for conspiracy to commit public nuisance tied to the protests that paralyzed parts of the Asian financial center for 79 days in late 2014 and became known as the Umbrella Movement.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun and activist Raphael Wong were both jailed for eight months for inciting public nuisance.
The trial was considered the most significant legal maneuver by authorities to punish those involved in the 2014 protests, called Occupy Central, in reference to the city’s central business district.
The demonstrations were Hong Kong’s biggest and most protracted in recent decades and one of the boldest challenges to China’s leaders since pro-democracy protests in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Organizers estimated that more than one million people took part in the protests over nearly three months.
All the leaders had argued the protests were intended as peaceful, non-violent civil disobedience, only to benefit society and make positive democratic progress.
By Andrew MacAskill