SINGAPORE — U.S. and U.K. leaders have denounced Hong Kong's decision to sentence three prominent activists to prison over charges related to an illegal pro-democracy rally.
Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong was sentenced to more than 13 months in jail on Wednesday, while two other pro-democracy members of his now disbanded political group, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam, were also sentenced to 10 months and seven months respectively.
Wong pleaded guilty to organizing and inciting an unlawful assembly near Hong Kong's police headquarters last year. Chow admitted to inciting and participating in the same protest, while Lam pleaded guilty to incitement.
In response to the ruling, U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab urged Hong Kong and Beijing authorities to "bring an end to their campaign to stifle opposition."
"Prosecution decisions must be fair and impartial, and the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong must be upheld," Raab said in a statement.
Hong Kong is a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997. It is governed under the "one country, two systems" framework and is given greater autonomy than other Chinese cities.
"China's brutal sentencing of these young champions of democracy in Hong Kong is appalling," she said. "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 called on "freedom-loving people" to condemn the "unjust sentencing and China's widespread assault on Hong Kongers."
Defending its decision on the sentencing of the three activists, Hong Kong's Department of Justice said in a statement: "Human rights and freedom in Hong Kong, including freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, are fully protected by the Basic Law. However, such freedoms are not absolute."
Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen, said in a tweet that she was saddened by the news.
"We hope that our friends in Hong Kong will not give in to fear and let their vision slip away," she said in a post.
China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and sees the democratic self-ruled island as a runaway province. The Chinese Communist Party has never governed the self-ruled island.
Hong Kong's last British governor, Chris Patten, said the ruling is "another grim example of China's determination to put Hong Kong in handcuffs," according to the Associated Press.
Beijing bypassed Hong Kong's lawmakers earlier this year to pass a controversial national security law that was seen by some as a way to crush dissent after months of pro-democracy demonstrations. Four opposition legislators were also expelled from the city's assembly for endangering national security, Reuters reported.
Exiled activists Nathan Law and Alex Chow, in an opinion piece on the New York Times, called on the incoming Biden administration to remain critical of the Chinese Communist Party and to foster policy that "prioritizes human rights over other interests."
Amnesty International, a non-governmental organization focused on human rights, said the jail terms violate the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
"Their convictions should be overturned without delay and they must be released immediately and unconditionally," said Yamini Mishra, Asia-Pacific regional director of Amnesty.