Former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten on Tuesday blasted the guilty verdicts in the trial of nine pro-democracy Occupy leaders as being "appallingly divisive".
The nine, including serving legislators Tanya Chan and Shiu Ka-chun, were convicted of public nuisance charges and could face prison sentences.
In a statement issued by the UK-based pressure group Hong Kong Watch, Patten said the trial was the result of a "vengeful" campaign by the SAR authorities.
"At a time when most people would have thought that the aim of the Hong Kong government should be to bring the whole community together, it seems appallingly divisive to use anachronistic common law charges in a vengeful pursuit of political events which took place in 2014," he said.
The statement also included responses to the verdicts from members of the German parliament.
"It is alarming that human rights activists and pro-democracy leaders are increasingly at risk in Hong Kong, said Gyde Jensen, who chairs the German Bundestag Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid.
"We cannot accept that protesters are intimidated when they exercise their right to freedom of expression and to peaceful demonstration."
Amnesty International Hong Kong also took issue with prosecution's decision to lay common-law charges against the defendants – each of which carry a maximum penalty of seven years in prison – instead of using specific statutory offences that have less severe penalties.
In a statement, the rights group’s director, Tam Man-kei, said “today's guilty verdicts are a crushing blow for freedom of expression and peaceful protest in Hong Kong. The government has used vague charges in their relentless persecution of the Umbrella Nine.
"The government is increasingly using prosecutions as a political tool to target peaceful activists, abusing the law to silence debate about sensitive issues such as Hong Kong democracy and autonomy. We urge the government to cease this chilling assault against people legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression", he said.
In his judgement, District Court Judge Johnny Chan denied suggestions that the charges would have any “chilling effect” on the freedom of speech or assembly, nor would they curtail or suppress human rights as the defendants have alleged.
He said sometimes a statutory offence “cannot adequately reflect the serious consequences of the conduct under complaint”, adding that “it cannot be said just because a charge of public nuisance is used, a prosecutor can use a bigger or extra stick to beat the defendant in the event of a conviction.”
Human Rights Watch also hit out at the convictions.
"Hong Kong courts, by labelling peaceful protests in pursuit of rights as public nuisance, are sending a terrible message that will likely embolden the government to prosecute more peaceful activists," said Maya Wang, a senior China researcher with the group. (Additional reporting by AFP)
Last updated: 2019-04-09 HKT 15:38
Occupy verdicts appallingly divisive: Chris Patten
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