A court in Hong Kong on Tuesday denied an application for bail from jailed democracy activists Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam pending their appeal against their sentence on charges related to “illegal assembly” during a mass siege of police headquarters on June 21, 2019.
Chow, who looked thinner and paler than in previous court appearances, wiped away tears in court as High Court judge Andrew Chan said he would be referring the case to the Court of Appeal, effectively denying the application for bail.
Some supporters shouted out encouragement to Chow, while Lam made the five-finger gesture of the 2019 pro-democracy movement representing five demands made by protesters, including fully democratic elections, an amnesty for jailed protesters, and accountability for police violence.
The hearing was also attended by outspoken Cardinal Joseph Zen. Police officers cordoned off the area around the court entrance with traffic barriers, and journalists weren’t allowed to get close enough to take photos.
Lawyers for Lam and Chow later said the pair will both serve out their sentences, with Lam due to be released in April and Chow in June.
Chow, 24, was sentenced to seven months’ imprisonment in Dec. 2 after pleading guilty to charges relating to “illegal assembly.”
She was taken after sentencing to the medium-security Lo Wu Correctional Institution near the border with mainland China, but was later transferred to the Tai Lam Women’s Correctional Institution, a Category A facility.
Category A prisoners, of whom there are only a few hundred in a city of seven million, are often people who have been convicted of murder or drug trafficking.
Fellow activist and former 2014 student leader Joshua Wong, who co-founded the now-disbanded political party Demosisto with Chow, is also believed to have been placed in Category A.
Fellow activists Joshua Wong, 24, and Lam, 26, were jailed for 13-and-a-half-months and seven months respectively by the West Kowloon District Court on Dec. 2, 2020.
All three defendants pleaded guilty to charges of “inciting others to take part in an illegal assembly” and “taking part in an illegal assembly,” and their sentences were reduced in recognition of the guilty plea.
Oaths of allegiance
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong authorities are gearing up to require sitting members of the District Council to take an oath of allegiance to Hong Kong.
Secretary for mainland and constitutional affairs Eric Tsang said politicians whose oaths were deemed “insincere” would be stripped of their seats on the council.
Pro-democracy candidates swept to a landslide victory in the last District Council elections in November 2019, which came after several months of mass protest over Hong Kong’s vanishing freedoms.
“The law will fulfill the constitutional responsibility of the government,” Tsang said.
“You cannot say that you are patriotic but you do not love the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party or you do not respect it – this does not make sense,” Tsang added. “Patriotism is holistic love.”
The move came a day after a top ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official in charge of Hong Kong said that only patriots should be allowed to hold public office.
Under the draft legislation, any district councilor who fails the loyalty test will be sent to court for formal disqualification, and banned from taking part in elections for five years.
Political commentators have warned that the authorities are gearing up for the mass disqualification of opposition politicians from the council, who currently hold nearly 90 percent of seats.
Tsang said four district councilors — Lester Shum, Tiffany Yuen, Fergus Leung, and Tat Cheng — have already been earmarked for disqualification.
“The returning officers at the time have already concluded that the four do not genuinely uphold the Basic Law. So theoretically speaking, they won’t be qualified to stay on as district councillors,” Tsang told reporters in comments reported by government broadcaster RTHK.
A recent poll by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI) found that several different measures of freedom in Hong Kong were at their lowest level since the handover.
Academic freedom, freedom of association, and freedom of movement all dropped to their lowest ebb in a survey carried out in early February 2021, while press freedom and freedom of speech also returned low scores.
HKPORI deputy chief executive Chung Kim-wah said the freedom of movement figure reflects people’s concerns over growing entry and exit controls at Hong Kong’s borders, particularly after China said it would no longer recognize the British National Overseas (BNO) passport.
“First they were talking about countermeasures and non-recognition, and then we had the announcement that the BNO wouldn’t be accepted as a travel document any more,” Chung told RFA. “There were also rumors that there would be restrictions on people trying to leave.”
“Our survey conducted at the beginning of this month reflects people’s feelings on the BNO [issue],” he said.
Following the imposition of the national security law in Hong Kong, the U.K. launched an immigration scheme for BNO passport-holders that offers a potential pathway to work, study, and eventual citizenship to around five million of Hong Kong’s seven million residents, drawing Beijing’s ire.
Crackdown on dissent, opposition
The CCP imposed the draconian National Security Law for Hong Kong on the city from July 1, 2020, ushering in a crackdown on peaceful dissent and political opposition.
The law was described as “one of the greatest threats to human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong since the 1997 handover” by legal experts at Georgetown University’s Asian Law Center.
The report found that the authorities “have made vigorous use of the [law] over the past seven months, with over 100 arrests by the newly-created national security department in the Hong Kong police force.”
“The vast majority of initial … arrests would not be considered national security cases in other liberal constitutional jurisdictions,” the report said.
It said there are “serious concerns” that the law is being used to suppress the basic political rights of Hong Kong residents.
“Prosecution of individuals for exercising their rights to free expression, association, or assembly … violate Hong Kong and Beijing’s commitments under international human rights law,” it said.
Reported by Cheng Yut Yiu for RFA’s Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.