Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong has been remanded in custody after pleading guilty to charges related to a protest outside police headquarters last year, during months of unrest over a proposed extradition bill with China.
Wong, who faces up to three years in prison according to his lawyer, was charged alongside two other activists, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam, for what prosecutors said was their role in inciting, organizing and knowingly taking part in the unauthorized assembly, which took place on June 21 last year.
During a court hearing Monday, Wong, 24, pleaded guilty to two charges relating to inciting and organizing the protest. The prosecution offered no evidence for the third charge in relation to his participation in the protest. Chow pleaded guilty to incitement and participation charges, while Lam also pleaded guilty to incitement charges.
The magistrate remanded them in custody ahead of sentencing on December 2.
Speaking before the trial, Wong said it “would not be surprising” if the court had him detained, but said “neither prison bars, nor election ban, nor any other arbitrary powers would stop us.”
“Perhaps the authorities wish me to stay in prison one term after another,” Wong added. “What we are doing now is to explain the value of freedom to the world, through our compassion to whom we love, so much that we are willing to sacrifice the freedom of our own.”
Monday’s trial was only the latest in a series of prosecutions and arrests this year in relation to the 2019 protests. Wong himself is facing other charges over a rally in October last year, and police have said investigations into the unrest are continuing.
Earlier this month, a number of former pro-democracy lawmakers were arrested over protests staged in the city’s legislature, while a reporter for public broadcaster RTHK was also detained regarding a program investigating the police’s handling over a mob attack at Yuen Long train station during the height of the protests in July 2019.
The protests have largely been eclipsed politically, however, by the national security law imposed on the city by Beijing this summer. The law criminalizes secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces and carries with it strict prison terms.
It was used to justify barring Wong and a number of other candidates from standing for elections that were due to be held in September – but were postponed due to the coronavirus. Several of those disqualified were sitting lawmakers, who were subsequently ejected from the parliament by Beijing – overruling constitutional precedent and bypassing Hong Kong’s courts – on November 11, sparking the mass resignation of the entire pro-democratic camp.
The move came the same week as the US State Department sanctioned a number of top Chinese officials in Hong Kong for “threatening the peace, security, and autonomy” of the city, a move the local government described as “barbaric inteference.”
Other countries have also criticized China over the ongoing crackdown, with the European Council saying the move to disqualify opposition lawmakers constituted a “further severe blow” to freedom of opinion in the city and “significantly undermines Hong Kong’s autonomy.”
Some in Hong Kong have reacted to the worsening political system by migrating – or in the case of those facing prosecution, fleeing – abroad, but this has become increasingly difficult as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
This summer, a dozen Hong Kongers were arrested by the Chinese coast guard en route to Taiwan, all are now detained on the mainland and facing a raft of charges. A former independence activist, Tony Chung, was also arrested after allegedly attempting to claim asylum at the US consulate to Hong Kong, along with several others.
“I wish to pay tributes to our fellow activists who are about to face trials and prison, or to whom in distress for not being able to return home: We’re not fearless, but you are the braver ones,” Wong said in a statement Monday following his conviction.
Chow, one of the three remanded, is also facing charges related to the national security law. Ahead of this week’s trial, she said that “if I am sentenced to prison this time, it will be the first time in my life that I am mentally prepared, but I am still a little afraid.”