Protesters seeking to effect change by taking to the streets increasingly find themselves at risk of prosecution under sedition, national security or ‘public order’ laws. TrialWatch is monitoring multiple cases in Hong Kong, Thailand, and elsewhere concerning protesters being targeted for their actions.
“The authorities used this first case not to punish serious criminal conduct but as an exemplar to chill speech and conduct by the general public.”
Tong Ying-kit was convicted under the National Security Law of ‘inciting secession’ and ‘terrorist activities’ for displaying the popular protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong Revolution of Our Times” and colliding with police officers at a protest while on his motorbike. He was given a severe nine-year sentence, despite the fact that the court acknowledged his conduct was not “the worst of its kind.”
“As matters currently stand the case sends a troubling message to people in Hong Kong that peaceful dissent and peaceful public protest may lead to serious criminal sanctions.”
Nine pro-democracy protesters, including Jimmy Lai, the owner of the since-shuttered Apple Daily, and Martin Lee, known as “The Father of Democracy” in Hong Kong, were convicted of organizing and ‘knowingly participating in’ an ‘unauthorised assembly’ in violation of Hong Kong’s Public Order Ordinance based on their role in a peaceful protest. The TrialWatch report on the case found that the prosecution and sentence were a disproportionate response to peaceful activity and that the case could constitute an abuse of process.
The ABA Center for Human Rights and Human Rights Embassy monitored 15 protest-related cases as part of TrialWatch, one of which was brought against a human rights lawyer,
The cases show Belarus’ assembly line of injustice in action. The defendants were generally arrested after or in the vicinity of protests and detained pending trial. Some were actually protesting; others happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and were swept up in the arbitrary arrests.
“With more than 70 activists charged in recent months simply for criticizing their leaders, Thailand’s crackdown grows more egregious by the day.”
Twenty-two defendants, including student leader Parit ‘Penguin’ Chiwarak and human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa, face ‘insulting royalty’ (lese majeste) and sedition charges (among others) for speeches critical of the monarchy at a protest in September 2020. For instance, Parit criticized the Thai King’s trips to Germany during a global pandemic and public financing of the monarchy.
“The proceedings seem to have been intentionally cruel, with the court denying Ms. Shevchenko the right to visit her dying daughter and weaponizing surveillance footage.”
Katerina Hadzi-Miceva Evans, TrialWatch Expert
Anastasia Shevchenko was convicted of participating in an ‘undesirable organization’ for holding up a flag that said “#FEDUP” at a peaceful protest and speaking at a meeting about an organization that advocated for free and fair elections. This conviction—in the first criminal case under the ‘undesirable organizations’ law—followed arbitrary house arrest that prevented her from seeing her terminally ill daughter and invasive hidden-camera surveillance.