Please note the signature campaign, titled “Heavy Prison Sentences for Social Activists Regrettable, Beware of the Arrival of Authoritarian Rule in the SAR” (遺憾重判社運人士入獄 警惕特區威權管治來臨) has been launched. Please visit this link (https://sites.google.com/
Please join and help spread this among your colleagues. This signature campaign targets local and international academics only instead of students or administrative staff.
Scholars’ Alliance for Academic Freedom
Heavy Prison Sentences for Social Activists Regrettable
Beware of the Arrival of Authoritarian Rule in the SAR
(Joint Statement by Tertiary Institution Teaching Staff on the Appeal Court’s Ruling)
On appeal by the government, the Court of Appeal recently handed down heavier punishments in a row for two groups of young social activists, totaling 16, changing their sentences from suspended imprisonment and community service to immediate imprisonment for variously between six and thirteen months. We think the matter is very serious and are deeply disturbed. The following is our joint statement to set the record straight:
- Sentencing must take account of the social activists’ motives
Most of the 16 social activists who received prison sentences actively participated in social movements, in the hope of reforming society through direct actions. From protests against development plans for north-eastern New Territories to the re-occupation of the Civic Square, even without necessarily agreeing with the tactics or objectives involved, one cannot but see the activists’ goal in reforming society, not in self-seeking or bringing harm to others. Thus, while their acts might have breached the law, from the point of motives, they are in no way comparable to common criminals. When the court considers sentencing, it should take account of this and opt for more lenient sentences, especially regarding young first-time offenders who proactively acknowledge responsibility, and not treat them as violent criminals. As a matter of fact, the trial magistrate did take this into account and sentenced the defendants to community service or a suspended sentence and the defendants had all already served their sentence. The Secretary for Justice nonetheless relentlessly pursued these young activists, asking for the stiffest punishments for them and yet took no similar action in cases with longer and even more serious ramifications, this can have little credence among the public.
- Beware of the arrival of authoritarian rule in the SAR
In imprisoning the 16 social activists, the Appeal Court made it clear the sentences were aimed at a deterrent effect. We worry this might be a portent of the SAR government moving to authoritarian rule and draconian laws and punishment, that is, make people act within the laws through more severe court punishments. When court sentences fail to deter, the authorities can strengthen the deterrence. However, deterring-type punishments only suppress dissidents with power, they do not win over people with reason and therefore do not resolve social conflicts or facilitate consensus-building. Unfortunately, the recent Appeal Court ruling to increase the penalties not only manifests the line of draconian laws and punishments mentioned above but also clearly shows that the Appeal Court would of its own accord act in tandem with the SAR government.
- Draconian laws and punishments encroach upon human rights and civil society
Under draconian laws and punishments, the first to suffer are not only those social activists put behind bars, but also human rights and civil society. Following the Appeal Court’s ruling, the 16 activists were immediately imprisoned, civil society is weakened, there are more risks to political participation, those imprisoned are deprived of their right to stand in elections while citizens’ choices of representatives are narrowed. On the other hand, the court’s ruling renders the political high wall even more solid. The government can use more severe punishments to block dissenters’ channels of expression, but government-society dialogue will only become even more ineffectual, and social harmony can only be false harmony with people subjected to official whims.
Thus, we deeply regret the SAR government’s appeals and the Appeal Court’s ruling, and call upon civil society to strengthen unity and defend Hong Kong’s freedoms and core values.
意圖通過直接行動來改變社會。 從反對新界東北發展到重奪公民廣場行動，他們的手法甚至目標， 未必人人贊同，但卻不能不看到他們是旨在改革社會， 而非為了求取私利和傷害他人。因此，他們的行為即使抵觸了法律， 但從犯事動機看，絕不能與其他罪犯同日而語。法庭在量刑時， 也該考慮此點，予以輕判，特別對主動承擔責任的青年初犯者， 更該如此，而不該視他們為暴力罪犯。 其實原審裁判官量刑時已經考慮這些因素， 判處社會服務令或者緩刑，而他們也已經承擔罪責，全部服刑完畢。 律政司卻對這些青年窮追猛打，要求判以最高刑罰， 對許多更嚴重影響更深遠的案件卻沒有採取相同行動， 難以讓人信服。
我們擔心，這是特區政府走向嚴刑峻法威權管治的先兆， 即通過法院提高刑罰，使人循規蹈矩，遵守法律。 當刑罰仍不足以阻嚇，當局還可以進一步加強。不過， 阻嚇式懲罰只能以權力壓制抗爭者，卻始終不能以理服人， 也因此絶對不能化解社會矛盾，尋求共識。很不幸， 上訴庭近日的加刑判決，不啻是展現了以上嚴刑峻法的思路， 也清楚顕示上訴庭會自動配合特區政府。
更包括人權和公民社會。隨住上訴庭的判決， 十六名社運人士即時入獄，公民社會的力量削弱了， 政治參與的風險提高了，入獄者參加選舉的權利被剝奪了， 市民挑選代議者的選擇也收窄了。另一方面， 法庭的判決令政治高牆更加鞏固。政府可以更嚴厲的懲治方法， 堵住抗爭者表達的渠道，官民溝通也只會比過去更不濟， 而社會和諧只能是市民被迫順從官意下的假和諧。