Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow were jailed in August for between six and eight months for their leadership roles during the pro-democracy Occupy Central protests in 2015. Wong and Law have since been freed on bail pending their appeal.
“We urge the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal to consider the cases of Wong, Law and Chow in accordance with Hong Kong’s obligations under international human rights law,” the experts said in a joint statement.
“We fear that if their sentences are upheld, this will have the effect of stifling the expression of dissenting opinions, the right to protest and the overall work of human rights defenders.”
They added: “The right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly protects people, especially those sharing dissenting opinions.”
The experts also raised concerns that the Hong Kong Secretary of Justice had previously intervened in the case, to apply for a change and review of the men’s original lighter sentences.
“We call on the Hong Kong authorities to respect the independence of judicial powers and the rule of law,” the experts said.
The UN specialists reminded the Hong Kong authorities of their obligations to protect freedom of expression and peaceful assembly under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Hong Kong is a party and is due to report in March 2018.
“The international obligations that were recognized by the Hong Kong authorities require positive actions from the local Government to ensure a safe environment for members of civil society to express their opinions, to conduct peaceful demonstrations and to participate in public affairs,” the experts highlighted.
The experts also expressed concern that the prosecutions of Wong, Law and Chow reflect a broader assault on fundamental rights in Hong Kong and a tightening of control over the region by mainland authorities.
“The case against these three activists highlights the deterioration of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in China, particularly Hong Kong,” the experts said.
More than 1,000 people were arrested during and after the Occupy Central protests, which took place in the summer and autumn of 2015. Many were released, but a large number were notified by the police that criminal investigations were continuing and they could face re-arrest and charges if there was sufficient evidence against them.
The UN experts have been in contact with the authorities and will continue to monitor closely the situation as it evolves.
*The UN experts: Mr David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Mr Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
Photo credits: Chensiyuan. Wikimedia commons