Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong and two other prominent figures in the city’s pro-democracy movement have been detained after pleading guilty to charges relating to mass protests last year.
The case could see them sent to prison for years, delivering a further blow to a movement that has been crushed by Beijing’s move earlier this year to impose a national security law on the semiautonomous Chinese territory.
Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam were remanded into custody after a hearing Monday over allegations that they encouraged anti-government protesters to surround police headquarters in the Wan Chai district on Jun. 21, 2019, charges that predated the security law. They face sentencing next Wednesday.
Wong decided to change his plea to guilty after consulting with his lawyers. The three face multiple charges including organizing and taking part in illegal assemblies. The pro-democracy activists could face up to five years in prison. “Perhaps the authorities wish [for] me to stay in prison but I am persuaded that, neither prison bars, election bans, nor other arbitrary powers will stop us from activism,” Wong said. “Every day we have activists standing in trials, protesters sent to jail. And in the past three weeks, a total of 23 activists, journalists and councillors came under arrest.”
Chow, the youngest of the three at age 23, said that while she was mentally prepared to go to prison, she was still scared. “If I get sent to prison, it will be the first time for me. I can only hope to keep a steadfast mind,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
Wong, who is no stranger to arrests, said that he was prepared for the worst possible outcome. “I'm prepared for the thin chance of walking free,” Wong said on Monday morning before the trial began. “My case will draw the world’s attention to the arbitrary power of the criminal justice system whose impartiality is manipulated by Beijing’s crackdown and the systemic violence in greater detail. We will continue to fight for freedom, and now is not the time for us to kowtow to Beijing and to surrender.”
He previously talked about his personal fears of arrest and told VICE World News that Hong Kongers were now living “the worst possible scenario” under Beijing’s national security law, when went into effect on June 30 this year. Ahead of Monday’s trial, he shared his thoughts in a series of tweets, saying that he would “always have faith.” “I vow to draw more public attention to prison justice, particularly political prisoners,” Wong said.
Since Beijing’s national security law was passed, dozens of pro-democracy activists have been arrested. The sweeping crackdowns extended to outspoken media tycoon Jimmy Lai and prominent law professor Benny Tai, among others. Rights groups say it is all an overarching strategy from the mainland Chinese government to crush dissent.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo told VICE World News that she wasn’t surprised that Wong and the others had pleaded guilty. “The Hong Kong and Beijing governments had been trying to silence all forms of dissent, especially young Hong Kongers. It’s an ongoing ideological cleansing campaign,” Mo said. “They’ve been using judicial means as a political weapon to push dissenters into a dead end corner and ‘remorse’ will perhaps bring along a more lenient penalty.”
Hong Kong-based independent researcher Patrick Poon also said that the odds were stacked against the trio. “I respect that they chose to admit to such ridiculous charges and I’m afraid that all three will be given heavy sentences due to their civil disobedience criminal record,” Poon said.
“Although the case was laid against them before the implementation of the draconian laws,” he said, referring the the national security law, “authorities will always abuse the guise of Public Order Ordinance to curb freedom of expression and assembly.”
“Beijing’s ultimate intention in this is to push the world to accept their authoritarian model.”