The World Movement for Democracy (WMD) strongly condemns the sentencing of nine democracy activists by a Hong Kong district court for their involvement in the 2014 peaceful pro-democracy Umbrella Movement. The individuals, called the “Umbrella Nine,” were handed sentences of up to 16 months on charges of “conspiracy to cause public nuisance” and “inciting others to commit public nuisance” on April 24, 2019. We call on the government of Hong Kong to respect the rights to peaceful assembly and association by immediately and unconditionally releasing these individuals.
Among those sentenced were professors Benny Tai and Chan Kin-man, along with Baptist minister Chu Yiu-ming. All received full 16-month terms. The three are founders of the Occupy Central with Love and Peace campaign, which aims to use nonviolent civil disobedience in pursuit of democratic reforms in Hong Kong. In 2014, their organization staged a short sit-in in the city center to protest constraints for the city’s first direct elections that would be held in 2017. This stemmed from a decision made by China that it would allow direct elections, but only from a list of candidates pre-approved by Beijing.
When police responded to the small sit-in with tear gas, thousands of citizens joined the protest calling for fair elections and respect for freedom of expression. As protests grew larger and police repression became stronger, protesters protected themselves from tear gas with umbrellas—providing the movement with its name. In recognition of the bravery exhibited by these demonstrators, the World Movement awarded the Umbrella Movement participants with a Democracy Courage Tribute Award at its Eighth Global Assembly in November 2015.
As a special administrative region party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Hong Kong is obligated to protect the rights of its citizens. Hong Kong’s prosperity hinges on the strength of its rule of law and fundamental freedoms. Instead, this sentencing serves as a warning to dissenters and narrows the space for freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in Hong Kong.