International groups and politicians reacted to the sentencing of prominent pro-democracy activists on Wednesday, in an unprecedented trial that has captured headlines across the world.

Eight out of nine pro-democracy activists convicted over Hong Kong’s 2014 Umbrella Movement protests were sentenced after being found guilty of public nuisance charges two weeks ago. Three key founders of the movement – legal scholar Benny Tai, retired sociology professor Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming – were each handed a 16-month sentence, with Chu’s sentence suspended for two years owing to the 75-year-old’s age and past contributions to society, district court judge Johnny Chan said.

Occupy nine sentencing
Reverend Chu Yiu-ming. Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP,

Meanwhile, former student leader Eason Chung and Democratic Party veteran Lee Wing-tat were sentenced to eight months in jail, suspended for two years. The judge said Chung was spared from immediate detention owing to his young age, and Lee for his past contributions to society. Additionally, former student leader Tommy Cheung was given 200 hours of community service, to be completed in a year.

Lawmaker Tanya Chan’s lawyer David Ma revealed in court that Chan was suffering from a “life-threatening” brain tumour and had to undergo surgery within two weeks. The judge has delayed her sentencing until June 10 and bail has been extended.

HKFP rounds up reactions below.

Public figures & parties

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong Chief Executive

I want to reiterate that Hong Kong is a rule of law society, and we deeply cherish the spirit of the rule of law. No matter if it is the government or the public, they must respect and strictly adhere to the law… I cannot see how these court cases have affected freedom of speech, assembly or demonstration in the free society of Hong Kong…. Since the Handover, whenever we have issues – big and small – a lot of people, organisations and lawmakers have used Hong Kong’s freedom of expression to organise marches and public assemblies.

Carrie Lam.
Carrie Lam. File photo:
Pro-democracy Civic Party

The court failed to consider the reasons behind Hong Kong people’s acts of civil disobedience. Sending some of the defendants to jail will not solve the problem of a polarised society. Meanwhile, the SAR government failed to learn from its mistakes and reflect on them. It has yet to respond to the public’s demand for genuine universal suffrage… Hong Kong people have not given up their hope for universal suffrage. The democracy movement will make a comeback when opportunities arise.

Priscilla Leung, pro-Beijing lawmaker, Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong

The sentences tended to be light. But I don’t want people who consider the sentences as not heavy to send a message to the public that going to jail for a few months will help one gain political capital.

The Democratic Party

The Democratic Party expresses sorrow and regret for each of the nine activists who were convicted and sentenced over the Umbrella Movement. The Democratic Party believes that the charges laid against the nine activists were outdated, but they accepted their convictions willingly, thus showing a sense of magnanimity and responsibility.

Robert Chow, anti-Umbrella Movement campaigner

I think the sentences were a disappointment. I think they were manifestly inadequate. Of the eight people who were sentenced, four were basically let go, they don’t have to go to prison, and the highest was only 16 months… We are starting a signature campaign to ask the Secretary for Justice to appeal these sentences and ask for a review. I think this is the least she can do.

Ronny Tong, Executive Councillor

I think that an overly long sentence may negatively affect Hong Kong’s healing process. I hope this incident becomes a thing of the past as soon as possible, so I think today’s sentencing was appropriate. No matter how long the sentence is, I think there will be some deterrence effect in society. There will also be an educational effect to say that, no matter what your political goals are, you must use lawful means.

Ronny Tong
Ronny Tong. File photo:
Pro-democracy Demosisto group

We believe in the right to peaceful assembly, and to aspirations for a better, more democratic society. The verdict today creates a chilling effect in Hong Kong society, it will be increasingly difficult for anyone to express their opinions and to disagree with the government. We stand in solidarity with our friends, and are grateful for their courage and sense of justice. The fight is not over, and we urge our friends both in Hong Kong and abroad to show them that they are not alone.

Ann Chiang, pro-Beijing lawmaker, Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong

The defendants were either jailed or given suspended sentences – they got what they deserved. What broke my heart the most is that the Occupy movement misled many young people into thinking that participating in acts of civil disobedience do not bear legal consequences, whereas many of them ended up being imprisoned and their future ruined.

Pro-democracy camp statement signed by 22 lawmakers led by Claudia Mo

Today we feel sadness and anger at the sentencing of the eight activists, but we refuse to be despondent. Hongkongers will remember the sacrifices of the nine activists, and their actions to advance democracy will be recorded in history books. Carrie Lam has become a servant to Beijing, constantly using the judiciary as a political weapon to attain rule by white terror. She is effectively telling the world that she is leading One Country, Two Systems to its destruction… Carrie Lam, resign!

Elizabeth Quat
Elizabeth Quat. Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.
Elizabeth Quat, pro-Beijing lawmaker, Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong

I am heartbroken that some young people took part in illegal activities, and I understand their love for Hong Kong, but they should not express their views through illegal means. I worry that such sentences will send a dangerous message to the public that young people who do illegal acts will be given lenient sentences instead of being sent to jail.

Andy Tsang, police chief during the Umbrella Movement

The court decision should be enough to teach the public that politics is not above the law in a society that lives under the rule of law. The illegal Occupy movement has had a profoundly negative impact on the rule of law, social order, public safety and public awareness of obedience to the law.


Maya Wang, China Researcher at Human Rights Watch

The long sentences sends a chilling warning to all that there will be serious consequences for advocating for democracy. Together with the National Anthem Bill and the proposed amendments to the extradition laws this year, the Beijing and Hong Kong authorities appear intent on eliminating the only pocket of freedoms on Chinese soil.

Human rights group Civil Rights Observer (CRO)

Freedom of assembly is a fundamental right that underpins all democratic and free societies… The CRO stresses that imprisoning organisers and participants of a peaceful assembly is a blatant violation of international human rights standard. Excessive punishment has a chilling effect on the exercise of the right to freedom of assembly.

umbrella movement occupy trial
Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, Benny Tai and Chan Kin-man. Photo: In-Media.
Man-kei Tam, Amnesty International Hong Kong

All four are prisoners of conscience imprisoned solely for peacefully advocating for democracy for Hong Kong, and they must be immediately and unconditionally released and have their sentences overturned… The vindictive use of these vague and ambiguous charges by the Hong Kong government sets a dangerous precedent that could lead to the blanket prosecution and imprisonment of peaceful protesters. The government must stop abusing the law and the judicial system to silence debate on democracy in Hong Kong.

UK-based NGO Hong Kong Watch

The peaceful advocacy of democracy practiced by the Umbrella Movement leaders should be commended, not criminalised or punished with imprisonment. These sentences are excessively punitive, and on appeal, judges should ensure that the defendants are not sent to prison… The laws which have been used to sentence them are vague, ambiguous and anachronistic common law charges which require immediate reform… It is vital that the Hong Kong government does not allow outdated public order and public nuisance legislation to be used to intimidate political opponents and silence dissent.

Occupy nine sentencing
Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Foreign governments

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council

The Chinese Communist Party, on the one hand, stresses the need to ‘tell the real story of OCTS,’ [One Country, Two Systems] but on the other hand curtails Hong Kong’s democratic self-rule and its space for human rights – thus exposing its own flaws… The whole world is closely monitoring how OCTS is implemented in Hong Kong, and the Taiwanese people will also not be fooled or deceived.

Harvey Sernovitz, United States Consulate spokesperson

We are concerned by the Hong Kong government’s decision to bring these charges. Such prosecutions can stifle the exercise of the basic freedoms enshrined in the Basic Law,” Sernovitz said. “It is important for Hong Kong to respect its residents’ rights of freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. Societies are best served when diverse political views are respected and can be freely expressed.

occupy umbrella nine
Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.
British Consulate spokesperson

It would be deeply concerning if the outcome for these individuals were to deter the people of Hong Kong from participating in peaceful protest in the future.

The European Office in Hong Kong & Macao

The decision to prosecute such cases and today’s sentences may hinder Hong Kong people from exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and pursuing their aspirations for universal suffrage… It is important that the Hong Kong SAR and the Central Government authorities resume electoral reforms in line with the Basic Law, to reach an agreement on an electoral system that is democratic, fair, open, and transparent.

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