HONG KONG - Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday to protest against the jailing of three young democracy activists, with many questioning the independence of the Chinese-ruled city's judiciary.
Joshua Wong, 20, Nathan Law, 24 and Alex Chow, 27, were jailed for six to eight months on Thursday for unlawful assembly, dealing a blow to the youth-led push for universal suffrage and prompting accusations of political interference.
Thousands of people marched in temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) to the Court of Final Appeal, carrying placards and banners denouncing the jailing of the activists.
Former student leader Lester Shum, who helped to organize Sunday's rally, said the number of protesters was the highest since the "Umbrella Movement" pro-democracy protests in 2014 that paralyzed major roads in the financial center for 79 days.
"This shows that the Hong Kong government, the Chinese Communist regime and the Department of Justice's conspiracy to deter Hong Kong people from continuing to participate in politics and to protest using harsh laws and punishments has completely failed," Shum said.
Hong Kong police estimated 22,000 people had shown up at the height of the protest.
Protesters brandished a large banner saying: "It's not a crime to fight against totalitarianism." They shouted: "Release all political prisoners. Civil disobedience. We have no fear. We have no regrets."
Ray Wong, 24, who leads the pro-independence group Hong Kong Indigenous, said outrage over the jailings was helping to unite the pro-democracy opposition camp that has been riven by divisions over the past few years.
"Since the Umbrella movement, the radical and milder forces walked their own path," he said. "We're now standing together. It is a good start."
In Sunday's protest, some signs said "Shame on Rimsky," referring to Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen. Reuters reported that Yuen had overruled other legal officials when they advised against pursuing prison terms for the three activists.