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UN Experts Urge Hong Kong to Uphold Rights of Democracy Activists

FILE - Pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, center left, and Nathan Law, center right, walk out of the Court of Final Appeal Hong Kong, Oct. 24, 2017.

U.N. human rights experts urged Hong Kong to uphold the fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly on Tuesday when a court hears a final appeal of three prominent pro-democracy activists convicted of unlawful assembly in 2014 mass protests.

Hong Kong's highest court granted bail to two of the three activists, Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, on Oct. 24 pending their appeal scheduled for Tuesday against their respective jail sentences of six months and eight months.

Hong Kong's appeals court jailed Wong, 21, Law, 24 and Alex Chow, 27, leaders of the Chinese-ruled city's democracy movement, in August. Chow did not apply for bail. Their sentencing came as a blow to the youth-led push for universal suffrage and prompted accusations of political interference.

"We urge the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal to consider the cases of Wong, Law and Chow in accordance with Hong Kong's obligations under international human rights law," David Kaye, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and Michel Forst, U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said in a joint statement issued Monday in Geneva.

"We fear that if their sentences are upheld, this will have the effect of stifling the expression of dissenting opinions, the right to protest and the overall work of human rights defenders.

"The right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly protects people, especially those sharing dissenting opinions," they said.

The trio of activists helped lead the largely peaceful "Umbrella Movement" that blocked major roads for 79 days in 2014, demanding Beijing grant Hong Kong full democracy.

The independent U.N. experts also raised concerns that the Hong Kong Secretary of Justice had "previously intervened in the case, to apply for a change and review of the men's original lighter sentences."

"We call on the Hong Kong authorities to respect the independence of judicial powers and the rule of law," they said.

Hong Kong is a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a so-called "one country, two systems" formula that promises the city a high degree of autonomy, including an independent judiciary.

On Saturday, China's largely rubber-stamp parliament extended a law banning disrespect of the national anthem to cover Hong Kong, a move that critics have said undermined the Chinese-ruled city's autonomy and freedoms.