Documents on Democracy

Issue Date October 2017
Volume 28
Issue 4
Page Numbers 180-81
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Hong Kong

On August 17, a Hong Kong court of appeals sentenced democracy activists Alex Chow (b. 1990), Nathan Law (b. 1993), and Joshua Wong (b. 1996) to prison for their involvement in the 2014 student-led protests that evolved into the 79-day Umbrella Movement. Prosecutors had appealed a lower court’s 2016 ruling sentencing the activists to community service and a suspended jail term, arguing that the lighter penalties would fail to deter possible future protesters. Political figures from around the world issued an open letter on August 18 calling for the activists’ release. Excerpts from the letter appear below. (For a full version of this text, see www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/18/a-letter-to-china-hong-kongs-democrats-should-be-honoured.)

The decisiohttp://muse.jhu.edu/article/672001n by the courts in Hong Kong to sentence three courageous, principled young men to jail yesterday is an outrageous miscarriage of justice, a death knell for Hong Kong’s rule of law and basic human rights, and a severe blow to the principles of “one country, two systems” on which Hong Kong was returned to China twenty years ago. . . .

Joshua Wong and Nathan Law have already served the penalties imposed by a court a year ago. Joshua Wong served 80 hours of community service and Nathan Law 120 hours. Alex Chow received a three-week suspended prison sentence a year ago. Yet the Hong Kong government decided to reopen the case and seek tougher punishments. . . .

The three student leaders were charged for leading a peaceful sit-in that triggered the 79-day pro-democracy Umbrella Movement in 2014. At that time, the Hong Kong government described the demonstrations as illegal, invoking the public order ordinance, which has been criticized by the United Nations Human Rights committee for possibly “facilitat[ing] excessive restrictions” to basic rights. The law, which requires that processions involving more than thirty people and assemblies with more than fifty must apply for and receive a “letter of no objection” from the government in advance, is incompatible with Article 21 of the international covenant on civil and political rights (ICCPR), which applies to Hong Kong. . . . [End Page 180]

As former heads of government, parliamentarians, lawyers, and civil society leaders, we stand in solidarity with these three brave young men, we condemn yesterday’s verdict by the court of appeal, we call for it to be reviewed and for these three political prisoners to be released, and we urge the international community to put pressure on the governments of the People’s Republic of China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to respect the principles of “one country, two systems” and the Basic Law in Hong Kong.

Joshua Wong, Alex Chow, and Nathan Law should be honored, encouraged, and supported, not jailed. Yesterday was a dark day for Hong Kong and it should be met with international condemnation.

South Korea

In the aftermath of the impeachment and removal from office of South Korean president Park Geun Hye of the Grand National Party (formerly Saenuri), a presidential election was held on May 9. Moon Jae In of the Democratic Party was elected with a plurality of the vote and inaugurated before the National Assembly the following day. (For an analysis of the South Korean presidential election, see the article by Gi-Wook Shin and Rennie J. Moon on pp. 117–31 above.) Excerpts from Moon’s inaugural address appear below. (For a PDF version of the full address, see here.)

Over the past several troubling months, many people asked whether this country can indeed be called a country. . . . From today, I will become a president dedicated to building a country worthy of being called a country. I will boldly break from the malpractices of old days. As president, I will take the lead in starting anew.

First and foremost, I will strive to get rid of authoritarian practices in the presidency. When preparations are completed, I am going to leave Cheong Wa Dae [the Blue House] to usher in an era of the presidential office in Gwanghwamun Square. . . . The President’s imperial power will be shared as much as possible. . . .

I will make efforts to change the landscape of politics characterized by division and conflicts. . . . At the same time, I will take the initiative in reforming conglomerates [chaebol]. Under the Moon Jae In administration, the cozy relationship between political and business circles will completely disappear. . . .

This presidential election was held in the aftermath of the impeachment of the former President. The unfortunate history of the presidency still continues. On the occasion of this election, this unfortunate history must end. . . .

The Republic of Korea starts anew today, on 10 May 2017. A great history of building a decent nation begins. I ask you all to join me on this journey. [End Page 181]

Copyright © 2017 National Endowment for Democracy and Johns Hopkins University Press