A group of United Nations experts urged Hong Kong to respect the human rights of three democracy activists as they awaited a decision from the highest court to allow them to proceed with an appeal against their jail terms.
The statement was issued before the Court of Final Appeal granted Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow leave to proceed with their appeals on Tuesday.
The Court of Appeal sentenced the trio to prison in August over their involvement in a clash which sparked the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests. They were handed jail sentences of six to eight months. All three appealed.
“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,” Special Rapporteurs David Kaye and Michel Forst said in a joint statement issued from Geneva on Monday.
“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,” they said.
The experts also raised concerns that Secretary of Justice Rimsky Yuen 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 Department of Justice sought harsher sentences for the three activists, along with 13 other protesters in August, saying they were necessary for “deterrent” purposes. The protesters were initially given community service sentences, which they had finished serving.
The experts also expressed concern that the prosecutions reflected 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,” they said.
Law and Wong were released on bail last month. Chow’s application for bail was granted by the court on Tuesday. Their appeal hearing will take place on January 16.