The United Kingdom and the European Union condemned the decision to sentence publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai and multiple pro-democracy figures to prison for their roles in the 2019 mass protests that rocked the city for a year.
As many as 10 prominent pro-democracy figures were sentenced on Friday in Hong Kong in two separate cases for their peaceful involvement in protests.
Those sentenced are Martin Lee, Albert Ho, Jimmy Lai, Margaret Ng, Cyd Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan, Leung Kwok-hung, Au Nok-hin, Leung Yiu-chung, and Yeung Sum.
Their sentences range from terms of imprisonment between 8 and 18 months, and suspended prison sentences from 8 to 12 months in five of the cases. These latest decisions follow the sentencing of Joshua Wong and Sze-yiu Koo on 13 April.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in a tweet on Friday called for the targetting of pro-democracy demonstrators to stop by China.
"The Hong Kong authorities' decision to target leading pro-democracy figures for prosecution must stop. We will continue to stand together with the people of Hong Kong," Raab wrote in a tweet.
The UK Foreign Office on Friday said in a statement that the "right to peaceful protest is fundamental to Hong Kong's way of life - protected in both the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law - and it should be upheld."
The European Union on Friday said that the recent developments in Hong Kong call into question China's will to uphold its international commitments, undermine trust, and impact EU-China relations.
"The lengthy imprisonment of some of the individuals for non-violent acts when exercising protected civic rights is a further sign of the continued diminution of the democratic space and erosion of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong," the spokesperson from the bloc said in a statement.
"The exercise of fundamental freedoms, including peaceful assembly, must be ensured, as guaranteed in the Hong Kong Basic Law and in the Sino-British Joint Declaration," the spokesperson said.
This comes after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement on Friday (local time) said: "The seven pro-democracy leaders - Martin Lee, Jimmy Lai, Albert Ho, Margaret Ng, Cyd Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan, and Leung Kwok-hung - participated in a peaceful assembly attended by 1.7 million Hong Kongers... The sentences handed down are incompatible with the non-violent nature of their actions."
The US State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Thursday had condemned the conviction of seven activists who took part in anti-government protests in Hong Kong by the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities.
This subversion was made a criminally punishable offence in Hong Kong last year, under the Beijing-drafted national security law.
Meanwhile, Beijing believes the legislation criminalises activities related to terrorism, separatism, subversion of state power and collusion with foreign forces, while local pro-democracy activists and certain Western nations claim that the law undermines Hong Kong's civil liberties and democratic freedoms.
Beijing was perturbed by violent anti-government protests in 2019 and has imposed the draconian national security law to take action against those who protested against the government.
( With inputs from ANI )
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