Chris Patten, the last colonial governor of Hong Kong, has said the choice to appeal the sentences of Joshua Wong and other democracy activists was a “political decision” by the Secretary of Justice Rimsky Yuen.

The three activists – Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law – were jailed for between six and eight months in August for their roles in the Civic Square clashes that led to the 2014 Occupy protests. They had already completed their previous sentences. All have now applied to appeal.

Chris Patten. Photo: HKFP.

Patten said that one of the reasons Hong Kong was special was the rule of law, when he was asked about the upcoming trial of nine other pro-democracy Occupy activists.

See also: Last Hong Kong governor: Talk to each other, but avoid hate speech over political views

He said he spent a good part of his tenure as governor establishing a Court of Final Appeal with expatriate judges, a Bill of Rights and protections for civil liberties.

Patten was speaking at a Foreign Correspondents’ Club luncheon during a visit to the city, partly to promote his new book.

Bookseller case

“When I occasionally hear people these days giving me lectures about the rule of law, I just wonder where they were when all that was happening – and I wonder where they were, and what they were saying, when there were abductions in Hong Kong,” he said.

Lee Bo, a Hong Kong bookseller from Causeway Bay Books which published gossipy political titles, was apparently kidnapped from Hong Kong into the mainland without any record of his travel.

Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow. File photo: In-Media.

‘A little naive’

Patten said the sentence review of Wong and other activists was a “political decision” by Yuen – a suggestion he has denied.

“He’s grown up. He must know, as I said earlier, that actions have consequences, and not to understand what signal that would send to the rest of the world, strikes me as being, to be frank, a little naive,” he said.

But he said he thought Hong Kong was still subject to the rule of law, and that it was not accurate to call activists political prisoners.

“Perhaps it would have been wise to take the advice which we were told he was receiving from someone in his department, it was in Reuters, so it must be true,” he said.

Citing unnamed senior government source, the news agency reported that Yuen insisted on reviewing the sentences for the pro-democracy trio, despite opposition from top prosecutors.

Patten, now the chancellor of University of Oxford, said that when Yuen was invited there to give a lecture few months ago, he said Hong Kong was Asia’s international hub for the rule of law: “I strongly endorse that proposition, but I am not sure what’s happened is the best example to give of how that’s going to work,” he said.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.