German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for free speech in Hong Kong to be protected and criticized the harsh sentence recently handed to a Chinese Muslim scholar.

Her remarks Saturday come less than a week before a German-Chinese government summit in Berlin, in which China's Premier Li Keqiang will take part.

Merkel says freedom of speech should remain guaranteed by law in Hong Kong, where students are protesting against Beijing's efforts to influence upcoming elections.

She also said Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, who was has sought to reduce tensions between the Muslim minority and China's Han majority, was doing "precisely what is required."

A Chinese court sentenced Tohti to life in prison last month for separatism.