The Taiwanese government on Thursday condemned the oppression of dissidents in Hong Kong through the law and called for their release, after three prominent democracy figures pleaded guilty in court.
Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai and former lawmakers Lee Cheuk-yan and Yeung Sum were well-respected people, given their long involvement in Hong Kong’s democratic movement, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said.
Authorities in Hong Kong stripped them of their right to assembly and charged them over peaceful protests, it said, referring to prosecution of the trio over unauthorized assembly on Aug. 31, 2019.
On Wednesday, both Lee and Yeung said in court that although they pleaded guilty, they did not do anything wrong. The sentence for defendants who enter guilty pleas before the trial starts can be reduced by a third.
In Taiwan, council spokesperson Chiu Chui-cheng said that there was no crime in fighting for democracy and freedom. He condemned the oppression of dissent, democracy and human rights, and urged the Hong Kong authorities to release prisoners of conscience.
Previously, Chiu also spoke up against a separate case of unauthorized assembly that took place on Aug. 18, 2019, and involved Lai and Lee. He expressed “deep sadness” for the conviction of Hong Kong democracy advocates in that case.
Hongkonger Lam Wing-kee, a bookseller in self-exile in Taiwan, said the court trials of Lai were merely for show as he might be sentenced to life imprisonment.
The Chinese government had already decided upon Lai’s sentence regardless of whether he pleaded guilty to his charges, as the hearings were only procedures that had to be done before the sentencing, Lam told Apple Daily Taiwan.
Although Lai had admitted to just a light offense, China could consign him to life behind bars for violating national security laws, said Lam, who was abducted and taken to the mainland a few years ago but managed to get away and later reopened a bookstore in Taipei.
Most Hong Kong people would understand that the courts were not independent and had to rule according to the government’s decision, Lam said. Court trials were basically a false front meant to create an impression in Taiwanese and mainland Chinese people that China was governing Hong Kong with the rule of law, he added.
Lam noted how other democracy advocates had also been put into custody under Beijing’s drive to warn Hongkongers that any resistance could lead to life imprisonment.
The bookseller also gave a speech on Wednesday at an event marking the death of Taiwanese activist Cheng Nan-jung. He said that many people wished to leave Hong Kong under the current atmosphere, and their residency in Taiwan might help the self-ruling island.
Lam added that he did not fully understand Taiwanese politics and was wondering why the government tightened requirements for Hongkongers to live in Taiwan.
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