EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Chris Patten, the last governor of former British colony Hong Kong, has criticized the jailing of three leaders of the Chinese-ruled city’s pro-democracy movement saying the men should be a source of pride.
Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, Alex Chow and other Umbrella Movement protesters were sentenced to six to eight months in prison on Thursday for unlawful assembly, a blow to the youth-led push for universal suffrage.
“I think they will be remembered, and their names will be remembered, long after nobody can remember who I was, and perhaps nobody can remember who President Xi Jinping was,” Patten told an audience at the Edinburgh Book Festival, according to its official bulletin.
“We should be proud of what those kids are doing.”
Patten, who is now chancellor of the University of Oxford, had frosty relations with Chinese authorities as he prepared to return the territory to Chinese rule in 1997. Beijing accused him of potentially destabilizing the city in the run-up to handover with his reform proposals.
In his Edinburgh remarks, Patten also described China’s treatment of the Nobel Peace Prize-winner Liu Xiaobo, who died last month after being released for medical reasons as “appalling”.
“And the way his wife is being treated today is appalling, and who is making a fuss about it? You search in vain for anything other than a rather mealy-mouthed statement from foreign ministers, and it makes me wonder whether there’s a sort of decadence that’s affecting us which undermines any sense of honor we might have,” he added.
China’s Foreign Ministry referred questions on Patten’s remarks on Hong Kong to a comment earlier on Friday by ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying at a daily news briefing, in which she said nobody in Hong Kong could use the excuse of “so-called” democracy and freedom to carry out illegal violent acts.
“I would like to reiterate that Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. Hong Kong’s affairs are an internal affair. China firmly opposes any external forces’ interference in Hong Kong’s internal affairs and judicial independence,” Hua told reporters.
The three had been convicted of unlawful assembly related to months of mostly peaceful street protests that gripped the city in 2014 but failed to sway Communist Party rulers in Beijing in their call for full democracy.
Hong Kong’s legal chief denied any “political motive” in seeking jail for the pro-democracy activists on Friday, responding to a Reuters report that he had overruled other legal officials who had initially advised against pursuing the case.
Reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Christian Shepherd in BEIJING; Editing by Toby Chopra, Robert Birsel