NEW YORK—The sentencing of three Hong Kong democracy activists for their role in a 2014 protest represents a low point in Hong Kong’s commitment to freedom of speech and assembly, PEN America said today.

On August 17, Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal sentenced Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, and Alex Chow to six, seven, and eight months’ imprisonment respectively for “illegal assembly” charges for leading a protest which helped spark the Occupy Central movement, also known as the “Umbrella Protests,” which used civil disobedience tactics to call for universal suffrage and voting reforms.

The three activists had already been convicted and sentenced in August of 2016, and Wong and Law served community service while Chow received a suspended sentence. However, Hong Kong’s Department of Justice argued that the punishment was too lenient, and twice appealed to the courts to impose a harsher sentence. Leaders of the Umbrella movement have faced various legal charges stemming from their role in the protests, with some facing charges years after the protests concluded.

The sentences leave the activists ineligible from seeking political office for five years. Nathan Law and Joshua Wong are both founders of the Demosisto party; Law was elected as a legislator last year before the government disqualified him from holding office. In the past few months several pro-democracy lawmakers have been disqualified from their positions over allegations that they incorrectly took the oath of office.

“Today’s sentence is a nakedly transparent effort not only to punish these three young men for their political views, but to forestall them from playing a role in Hong Kong’s political future,” said James Tager, free expression programs manager at PEN America. “The Justice Department’s repeated efforts to see these three activists imprisoned and barred from holding political office says much more about Hong Kong’s tolerance for protest and expressions of dissent than the guilt or innocence of Wong, Law, and Chow on these charges of illegal assembly.”

The convictions occur against a backdrop of diminishing civic freedoms for Hong Kong. PEN America has documented the shrinking space for media diversity in the territory, and the 2016 kidnappings of five booksellers by security officials from the Chinese mainland. In November 2016 PEN America sent a publisher’s delegation to Hong Kong to present and discuss the findings of the report on the kidnapping of the booksellers; in this time they met with Nathan Law, and other legislators and free expression advocates.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: agasparian@pen.org, +1 646.981.0685