Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles On this episode of Hong Kong Uncensored: You go to jail. You go to jail. Everyone goes to jail! Welcome back to China Uncensored, I'm Chris Chappell. The Hong Kong government has just made a huge mistake. Um, yes, but sending political activists to prison is not exactly the mistake I'm talking about. The mistake is: If you're going to secretly undermine the freedoms of your people, you have to do it in secret! Like, if you're coming home at 3 am after sneaking out to a party: get your friend to drop you off down the street, and climb back into your room through the window. I'm just saying. That's just common sense and is not based on personal experience, Mom. Anyway, Hong Kong authorities are still kinda new at this, which makes them inexperienced and foolish. Because when the Hong Kong court sentenced these three political activists to prison on August 17, it really let the cat out of the box: The Hong Kong government is undermining the freedoms of its people. Of course, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam defended the move. "Rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people are protected under the Basic Law.” Ah yes, Basic Law. That was the agreement the CCP and the UK made ahead of the 1997 handover. Under the One Country, Two Systems principle, the Basic Law guarantees Hong Kong a variety of rights and freedoms— even rights and freedoms denied to people in the rest of China. Anyway, go on Ms. Lam. “But the exercise of these rights and freedoms... is not without limit.” So what limits did three dangerous criminals violate? Well, Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, and Alex Chow were influential leaders of the 2014 Umbrella Movement. “The 2014 protests— known as the Umbrella Movement— were triggered after Wong and his colleagues stormed the city's government headquarters. They were later found guilty of unlawful assembly and were sentenced to community service.” Just to clarify, “storming government headquarters” in this case meant jumping police barriers in front of a popular protest location outside the central government offices known as Civic Square. Anyway, go on. “But that wasn't enough for the department of justice which applied for a review.... Joshua Wong will spend the next six months behind bars.” So Joshua Wong and the other two less famous guys were sentenced to community service. Which they served. And then the court decided to sentence them again— this time to 6 months, 8 months, and 7 months respectively in prison. Why? Well, the Hong Kong Department of Justice decided that the punishments weren't harsh enough, and that they wanted a review of the sentences. Of course Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam will assure you, Beijing had nothing to do with the decision. "Our courts are exercising judicial powers independently, free from any interference. So any allegation that in these particular cases that judges in the Court of Appeal have made decisions under political interference, again, are totally unfounded.” That's like when you sneak out at night and then try to convince your parents the next day that the lump in your bed that night was you all along, and totally not the pillows from the guest bedroom. What's interesting here is that Lam defends the judges as being politically unbiased, but there are signs that the Justice Department itself wasn't politically unbiased when deciding to “review” the sentences. For one, it's highly unusual for them to review the sentences in the first place. There are reports that Secretary of Justice Rimsky Yuen overrode his own prosecutors in order to get those harsher sentences— even though his prosecutors didn't want to do it. Interestingly, Rimsky Yuen is also a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the terribly-named rubber-stamp advisory body to China's rubber stamp legislature. Being in the CPPCC is a marker of status and influence. And you can get kicked out for not toeing the Party line. But I'm sure he made his decisions about the Hong Kong activists completely without any political agenda. So when the courts handed down the prison sentences, their ruling talked about the importance of deterrent sentences. That is, by severely punishing these three people, they would make Hong Kongers not want to protest... sorry, I mean, “unlawfully assemble” in the future. Which worked incredibly well. In fact, the sentencing reinvigorated the movement for rights and freedoms in Hong Kong— with over twenty thousand people taking to the streets. There's more uproar over this than for other recent events that eroded Hong Kong's freedoms. Like allowing Chinese police to patrol in Hong Kong. Or saying the joint declaration Hong Kong Basic Law is founded on no longer has meaning. Or kicking out democratically elected pro-democracy lawmakers. Again. As you can see, the Chinese Communist Party's influence over Hong Kong has been getting really blatant lately. So the question is why? This carries serious risks for the CCP. It clearly shows that the One Country Two Systems policy that the CCP promised the UK is being thrown out the window. And that makes it hard for anyone to trust the CCP about any agreement. As Financial Times puts it, “If a bilateral treaty, signed by two heads of state and registered with the UN, can be unilaterally ignored, what is stopping China from trashing any other treaty it does not like?” So why would the CCP take this risk? Well, one factor is that the CCP doesn't care as much as it used to if the lack of independence hurts Hong Kong's economy. In 1997, when the UK handover happened, Hong Kong made up 20% of China's GDP. It was also the only real way for China to access Western investment. But now, 20 years later, other parts of China have grown so much that Hong Kong's contribution to China's GDP has fallen from 20% to just 3%. So why bother appeasing Hong Kongers with pesky freedoms unless those freedoms have limits? Another factor is that the government of the UK, and every other country, still wants to do business in with China— even if they're not super happy about this latest move. I mean yeah the CCP is terrible and breaks its promises, but...cha-ching! So put on that awkward smile and move on. And here's another factor: After the 2014 Umbrella movement was over, many of the young people who participated in the protests tried to continue to change the system from within. For example, Joshua Wong and Nathan Law founded a political party so they could officially join Hong Kong's democratic process. Nathan Law even won a seat in the legislature last year, along with many other new pro-democracy lawmakers. Unfortunately, Law was kicked out of office last month for adding a Gandhi quote while taking his oath of office. That's another topic. But now, their long prison sentences trigger a rule that disqualifies them from running for office for the next five years. So the Hong Kong government is effectively shutting them out of the political process. It seems like a side effect, but I think it's actually one of the main reasons the Hong Kong government did it. By disqualifying and shutting out pro-democracy legislators, the pro-Beijing government is more likely to be able to pass laws that the CCP wants, but Hong Kongers have resisted for years, like the patriotic education law, or Article 23, that anti-subversion law that would let police search people's homes without a warrant. But here's the thing: This move is extremely stupid! What happens when you force people to operate outside the system? When you show them that protesting is the only way to prevent the government from stomping all over your rights in order to appease the Communist Party? You get this! Twenty thousand angry people protesting. And we're probably going to see more protests in the future— because the Hong Kong government's decision tells the people one thing clearly: Civil disobedience is now the only way to make effective political change in Hong Kong. Now, as for Joshua Wong, Alex Chow, and Nathan Law, they've already started their prison sentences, although their lawyers say they will appeal. Hopefully prison won't harden them too much. Joshua has already shaved his head and talked about taking graphic design classes. Good luck, kid. Now, I personally admire these guys, and for viewers who feel the same, why don't you head over to Twitter, and send them some words of support from the China Uncensored 50-cent army. Their twitter handles are in the description below, and their accounts are being managed by friends while they're in prison. Don't forget to tag @chinauncensored so I can see your tweets as well. And as always, let me know what you think in the comments below. Coming up after the break, if only getting political prisoners out of China were as easy as getting money out. When I was in Hong Kong last December, I was lucky enough to sit down with Joshua Wong for an interview. We talked about his plans for the future of Hong Kong, and we even sang a song of angry men from my favorite musical, Les Mis. Of course, this is before I realized Joshua Wong was a dangerous criminal. So click here on the left to watch that interview now.