Hong Kong’s Department of Justice on Wednesday defended the sentencing of three pro-democracy prominent activists against an outpouring of local and international criticism, saying that the court had “administered justice in accordance with the law.”

“The three defendants pleaded guilty to their charges,” a statement on Wednesday night read. “Those who absurdly demanded for their immediate release not only disrespect our judicial system but also manifest their blatant denial of the fact that the defendants themselves pleaded guilty.”

File Photo: Studio Incendo.

The Magistrate’s Court had sentenced prominent activist Joshua Wong to 13.5 months, Agnes Chow to ten months and Ivan Lam to seven months behind bars. They earlier admitted charges relating to an unauthorised assembly held outside the Wan Chai Police Headquarters last June.

The justice department’s added that the human rights and fundamental freedoms guaranteed under the Basic Law “are not absolute,” referring to comments made by Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma earlier this year: “[W]e see clear limits in the law to the exercise of rights,” Ma had said. “The enjoyment or insistence on one’s rights does not, for example, provide any excuse to harm other people or their property, or to display acts of violence.”

The Department of Justice. Photo: GovHK.

The department hit back against those who criticised the sentencing: “It is unbecoming and irrational for people making sweeping attacks and baseless accusations against our judicial and legal systems without reference to the fact and circumstances of the case.”

It added that the government was committed to “upholding the rule of law,” saying that statements made “with a view to exert undue influence on our judicial and legal systems will be futile.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the magistrate said in her judgment that there was a need to create a deterrence.

Video: Studio Incendo.

Later that evening, supporters chased correctional services vans believed to be carrying members of the trio as they left the courthouse.

‘Appalling’

The comments follow an international outcry from foreign politicians and rights groups over the sentencing. US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on Thursday called the sentencing “brutal” and “appalling.”

“This injustice is clear proof that Beijing will stop at nothing to stamp out dissent and to destroy the freedoms and real autonomy guaranteed to the people of Hong Kong,” the speaker said in a statement, referring to the three activists as “young champions of democracy.” The trio range from 24 to 26 years old.

International rights group Amnesty International also condemned Wednesday’s sentencing. and called for the three to be released.

Supporters of the Hong Kong trio outside court. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“These three activists have been jailed in violation of their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” its Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra said. “Their convictions should be overturned without delay and they must be released immediately and unconditionally.”

The Japanese government’s spokesperson also voiced “grave concerns” over the sentencing to Beijing on Thursday. Chow is a popular figure in Japan.

Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.