How the Opposition Is Silenced in Hong Kong and Thailand

Selective Application of Laws Serves Illiberal Ends

A protester holds a yellow umbrella, the symbol of the Occupy Central movement, in support of jailed Hong Kong student leaders Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow, while officers from the Correctional Services Department stand guard outside a prison in Hong Kong, China, August 2017 Tyrone Siu / REUTERS

On August 17, three Hong Kong students, leaders of the Umbrella Movement in 2014, were sentenced for daring to call for the protection of democratic process. Joshua Wong, Alex Chow, and Nathan Law received prison terms of eight, ten, and eight months, respectively, from the Hong Kong Court of Appeals. Their nominal crimes were unlawful assembly (Wong and Chow) and inciting others to participate in unlawful assembly (Law). But make no mistake: by targeting these three young activists, both the Hong Kong government and Beijing aimed to punish them as individuals as well as send a warning to other would-be democracy activists.

Speaking before the verdict was rendered, Wong said, “There’s no longer rule of law in Hong Kong, its rule by law.” What he so poignantly identified here is a pattern in the central Chinese government’s dealings with Hong Kong. Rather than silence opposition directly, as Beijing is apt to do within the borders of the PRC, or use extrajudicial violence to silence dissidents as it did by kidnapping dissident Hong Kong booksellers last year, China is increasingly relying upon a selective application of the law to force Hong Kong citizens to follow the party line. In other words, in order to effectively silence opposition voices, it relies upon judicial decisions that may be legally correct but stand opposed to justice and democracy.

Only two days prior, another activist protesting authoritarianism in Asia received his own prison sentence. On Tuesday, August 15, three judges in the Khon Kaen provincial court in northeastern Thailand sentenced Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, widely known by his nickname, Pai, a law student and democracy activist, to two and a half years in prison. Pai’s nominal crime was to share a BBC Thai article about the new king, Rama X, or Maha Vajiralongkorn, on Facebook.

As with the Hong Kong students’ case, the imprisonment of Pai may be legally correct, but the actions for which he is being punished exceed those named in the court decision. Also similar

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