Several pro-democracy activists who fled Hong Kong after Chinese Communist authorities tightenedcontrol over the nominally autonomous region were sentenced to prison, drawing derisive condemnation from the United States.
“A regime that prevents its own people from leaving can lay no claim to greatness or global leadership,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday. “It is simply a fragile dictatorship afraid of its own people.”
Chinese officials conducted a closed-door trial after catching 12 activists who left the district by speedboat in a desperate bid to reach Taiwan, an island democracy that Chinese Communists claim as Chinese territory but have never controlled. The activists faced charges stemming from their involvement in protests against an extradition law that would have allowed mainland authorities to seize Hong Kong residents on flimsy allegations — a threat that intensified when Beijing responded to the protests by imposing a more aggressive national security law.
“What unfolded inside the Shenzhen courtroom today confirmed what many Hong Kongers feared most — that they no longer enjoy the same rights and protections under the rule of law and an independent judiciary system once guaranteed to all Hong Kongers,” said Hong Kong Democracy Council’s Samuel Chu, who is based in Washington, D.C. “Despite China’s repeated claim of having a ‘sunshine judiciary’ system, the 12 Hong Kongers were denied their chosen legal representation. And no family, rights observers, or representatives from foreign embassies were allowed in the ‘open’ courtroom.”
Two teenagers in the group were allowed to return to Hong Kong, but the 10 adults have been sentenced to mainland prison terms ranging from seven months to three years. “I’d like to stress that China is a country with rule of law, where laws must be followed and lawbreakers must be held accountable,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin insisted Thursday. “The Chinese judicial organs handle cases strictly according to law.”
The case suggests an ominous forecast for “more than 10,000 also facing protest-related charges,” according to Chu.
“As the judiciary system in Hong Kong becomes more and more corrupted and pressured by the powers in Beijing to deliver political decisions, today’s verdict and sentencing foretell what is to come for all Hong Kongers,” he said.
President Trump revoked Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law in May, citing Beijing’s moves to deprive the former British colony of the freedoms guaranteed by the Sino-British agreement by which the United Kingdom relinquished control of the region.
“Hong Kong was a thriving territory until the Chinese Communist Party and its local lackeys destroyed its rule of law and eviscerated the Hong Kong people’s freedoms,” Pompeo said Thursday. “The ‘Hong Kong 12’ who tried to flee this tyranny deserved a hero’s welcome abroad, not capture, a secret trial, and prison sentences.”