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Cardinals outraged as Hong Kong jails young politicians

Senior church leaders join international chorus of dismay as Beijing tightens grip on city
Cardinals outraged as Hong Kong jails young politicians

Nathan Law (right) and Joshua Wong (left), leaders of Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement, arrive to address the media before their sentencing outside the High Court in Hong Kong on Aug. 17. Along with fellow Umbrella Movement leader, Alex Chow, they were were found guilty of unlawful assembly. (Photo by Anthony Wallace/AFP)

Published: August 21, 2017 10:12 AM GMT
Updated: August 21, 2017 10:39 AM GMT

Asia's two most politically minded cardinals Myanmar's Charles Maung Bo of Yangon and Hong Kong's retired firebrand Joseph Zen Ke-kuin have joined the chorus of international condemnation for the Hong Kong government's incarceration of young pro-democracy activists.

Alex Chow, Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, former student leaders of the Umbrella Movement, a 2014 civil disobedience movement to fight for democracy, were given jail terms on Aug. 17 ranging from six to eight months for unlawful assembly, by the city's Court of Appeal.

Three days later, at least 50,000 people in Hong Kong took to the streets protesting the sentence, the latest blow to the "one country, two systems" promise by Beijing.

It was the highest record of protesters ever since the 2014 Umbrella Movement that gave rise to most of the city's newest political prisoners.

Lester Shum, a former student leader in the Umbrella Movement, told media after the rally that the recent judicial reviews have shown that the government would not forgive citizens who fight for democracy and challenge an unjust society. The jail terms disqualify the three from running for the city's legislature for the next five years.

"We can see from the number of people who participated in the rally that they are not willing to compromise," Shum said.

"Coming out on to the streets is a slap [to the face of] Carrie Lam and Rimsky Yuen, the Chief Executive and Secretary of Justice of Hong Kong. Despite their harshness, Hong Kong people will not give up," he said.

Lam, who had pledged during her election to facilitate reconciliation in society, was criticized for showing no response to the protest. Her Facebook page only showed photos of a "brain storming" session she held with top government officials the same day, including an image of them enjoying a buffet.



Protesters march in Hong Kong Aug. 20, to protest the jailing of Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow — the leaders of Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement. The three were handed sentences of six to eight months for their role in 2014's Umbrella Movement protests, which called for fully free leadership elections and were an unprecedented challenge to Beijing. (Photo by Isaac Lawrence/AFP)


'Hong Kong is sinking'

Cardinal Zen, who is on a 40-day North American trip, has condemned the sentencing which he said is political repression.

"My visit to old friends in the United States and Canada was to talk about the crisis of the China Church but now I must also speak loudly that "Hong Kong is sinking," Cardinal Zen said on his blog on Aug. 18.

Cardinal Zen said he came to know of the three student leaders arrest and imprisonment as soon as he arrived in San Francisco. "The heavy sentence in this case has shown that the judiciary has become a tool for political repression," the retired bishop of Hong Kong wrote.

Cardinal Zen was actively involved in the 79-day Umbrella Movement and surrendered himself to the police in 2014. If he is to be arrested upon returning to Hong Kong, "turning myself from a prison visitor into a prisoner, to accompany my brothers and sisters in prison, will be my glory," he wrote.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Bo from Myanmar also signed a joint declaration with other 24 world figures from Australia, Canada, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the U.K. and the U.S. to condemn the Court of Appeal's decision to jail the three pro-democracy student leaders.

It was "an outrageous miscarriage of justice, a death knell for Hong Kong's rule of law and basic human rights, and a severe blow to the principles of 'one country, two systems' on which Hong Kong was returned to China 20 years ago," said the statement released Aug. 18.



Some of the 50,000 people who took to the streets to protest the sentencing of Alex Chow, Joshua Wong and Nathan Law. The Catholic woman holds a Divine Mercy image. (ucanews.com photo)


Mass for justice and peace

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing of Hong Kong is scheduled to celebrate a Mass dedicated to justice and peace for the city on Aug. 31.

The event is organized by the Hong Kong diocesan Justice and Peace Commission that is helping to collect letters from the public to be sent to the young prisoners to encourage and comfort them.

In addition, the commission released a statement Aug. 21 saying that the court was unreasonable in accusing the activists of being violent because the judgement ignored "institutional violence" and refused to understand the ideal of the protesters from a socio-political background.

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