WASHINGTON/HONG KONG - The Hong Kong government's decision to sentence three prominent activists to prison for organizing an unauthorized assembly drew fire from several key member of the U.S. Congress.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam received jail terms for organizing a protest that took place outside the Hong Kong Police Headquarters in the district of Wan Chai in June 2019.
Wong received a sentence of 13-and-a-half months in jail after pleading guilty to both inciting and organizing an unauthorized assembly. Chow received a 10-month sentence for inciting and taking part in the protest, while Lam received a seven-month sentence for inciting the protest.
Wong is one of the most widely recognized activists engaged in the city's resistance to Beijing's crackdown. He, Chow and Lam were members of a now disbanded political group, called Demosisto.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Washington responded angrily to the sentences. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, called the ruling "appalling" in a written statement.
"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," she said, adding that Congress will "speak with one voice in defense of those oppressed by Beijing and in support of freedom, justice and real autonomy for the people of Hong Kong."
Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said the ruling sends a clear signal to the world.
"Beijing completely controls Hong Kong," said Rubio, chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. "American and other companies should get out while they can."
He added that the sentences show that the Hong Kong government has failed to keep its promise of a One Country, Two Systems framework, which was meant to give Hong Kong greater autonomy than other Chinese cities.
"If this is how Hong Kong treats prominent pro-democracy activists, then the international community must watch closely for how Hong Kong treats the thousands awaiting their day in court and those charged under the National Security Law," Rubio said in a statement. "I stand in solidarity with all Hong Kongers who are watching as their long-cherished freedoms are robbed by a corrupt and cruel regime in Beijing."
Josh Hawley, a Republican senator from Missouri, told VOA the ruling shows that China has no intention of living up to its obligations stated in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which governed the return to China of the former British colony.
"It feels like a crackdown on the basic liberties of the people of Hong Kong with total impunity," Hawley said. "It's very brazen on their part."
Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, called the court ruling "appalling" in an interview with VOA.
"What Communist China is doing to Hong Kong is appalling. We should do everything we can to show support for the courageous people of Hong Kong who just want freedom," he said.
Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the incoming Biden administration would be tougher on China's human rights issues.
"[President-elect Joe Biden] intends to be an advocate for human rights and democracy and it will be one of the pillars of American foreign policy again," he told VOA. "I think Hong Kong is a prime candidate for the voice of the Biden-elect administration to be raised as it relates to human rights and democracy."
Samuel Chu, managing director of the Washington D.C.-based Hong Kong Democracy Council, told VOA that he is heartbroken over what happened to young activists in Hong Kong.
"I'm really sad and I'm angered by the fact that the Hong Kong and Chinese government is essentially saying that they are willing to wipe out the brightest [minds] of the next generation just to buy some time to keep control of Hong Kong," Chu said.
Manpreet Anand, regional director for Asia-Pacific programs at the National Democratic Institute, was sanctioned by the Beijing government on Monday for his work on human rights issues in China. He told VOA that Beijing is clearly trying to silence, intimidate and deter people who are attempting to advocate for the rights promised to them by the territory's Basic Law, or constitution.
"It's really unfortunate. I think you are seeing an outpouring of support from across the democratic world for those individuals, but broadly for all of those who want what was promised to them in terms of democracy in Hong Kong," Anand said.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai has been denied bail following his arrest for alleged fraud on Thursday. He was deemed an "absconding risk" by the court and is set to remain behind bars until the next court date in April 2021.
Chung Kim-wah, deputy chief executive officer of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, told VOA the court decision is unusual in its nature.
"The accusation was illegal use of his company's premises. In fact, he lent office space to a foundation, that's a common practice in Hong Kong," Chung said. "I think the decision to deny bail is to target Jimmy Lai, and the fact that he needs to remain behind bars for more than five months equals political persecution."
This story originated in VOA's Mandarin Service.