Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was arrested Thursday for “illegal assembly” and flouting a controversial 2019 anti-mask law that banned the wearing of face masks and covers during large public gatherings.
The arrest was announced on Wong’s official Twitter account, which has more than 687,000 followers.
“Joshua was arrested when reporting to the Central Police Station at 1pm today,” it read, adding that charges were related to a rally last year on October 5, 2019 - at the height of pro-democracy protests aimed at pushing back against China’s expanding control over Hong Kong.
He was then released a few hours later and took to Twitter to detail the formal charges made against him, calling it a "bizarrely prompt release".
The 2019 anti-mask law was put in place before the COVID-19 pandemic and has been rarely enforced since.
Rights groups slammed the arrests of Wong and a second pro-democracy activist Koo Sze-yiu. “Today’s targeting of activists once again highlights the authorities’ escalating crackdown on critical voices, which is having a chilling effect on the freedom of peaceful assembly in Hong Kong,” Amnesty International said in an email statement.
“The arrest of one of Hong Kong's most prominent opposition figures for wearing a face mask at an “unauthorized” protest – at a time when wearing a face mask is compulsory in the city – is yet another example of the government’s campaign to silence dissent by any means.”
Wong, who is no stranger to arrests, previously told VICE News about his fears of being detained under a new Beijing-backed National Security implemented in July.
The act bans all forms of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign countries. It carries a harsh maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
The law has already been used to justify arrests of dozens of pro-democracy activists, including outspoken Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, and has been labeled by analysts and observers as a way for the mainland Chinese government to crack down on dissent in Hong Kong.
Wong also previously spoke out on Twitter against the detention of 12 Hong Kong activists who were fleeing by boat to nearby Taiwan to seek political asylum.
He raised his concerns about their welfare and said he feared they would be sent to China’s secretive court and prison system and denied access to legal support.