HONG KONG: After pleaded guilty to inciting a rally during last year’s pro-democracy demonstrations, deepening the crackdown on Beijing’s opponents, three young HK activists, including Joshua Wong, were arrested on Monday.
Last year,HK was convulsed by seven consecutive months of massive and frequently aggressive political protests in which millions of protesters took to the streets.
Beijing dismissed free-election requests and the government pursued democracy backers with court charges and a sweeping new national security legislation.
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Wong, 24, was tried with fellow activists Ivan Lam and Agnes Chow over a rally at the city police headquarters last summer.
Wong told reporters on his way to court, “We will continue to fight for freedom, and now is not the time for us to kowtow to Beijing and surrender.”
When inside, Wong pleaded guilty to inciting an unlawful meeting and organising it. While Chow, 23, confessed inciting and attending the rally, Lam pleaded guilty to incitement.
Pending trial on Dec 2, the three were remanded into prison, ensuring a prison sentence is almost assured.
Three years is the highest penalty a magistrate’s court can hand out.
“They’re all hanging in there. I know it’s harder for you to sit out there,’ shouted Wong inside the court.
Their jail van was surrounded by small groups of supporters as they were pulled south, screaming “Add oil!” “and No rioters, just tyranny! No rioters! Adding oil is a common Cantonese expression of support, although the authorities dismissed both nonviolent and aggressive demonstrators as rioters last year.
Wong and Lam were later filmed, handcuffed together, exiting a police van and entering a detention centre.
Despite his youth, Wong had already spent time in jail for leading demonstrations against democracy and told reporters he was eager to return.
“Emotionally, I am reluctant to be imprisoned in every way, but rationally, compared to many others, I have absolutely no room to complain,” he said outside court, pointing to the hundreds of protest-linked trials that have already been completed.
Chow felt less self-confident.
“If sentenced, this will be my first time in jail,” she wrote in a Sunday post on Facebook. Although I say I’ve planned emotionally for this I’m always a little afraid.” When he was in his early teens, Wong became an activist, organising successful rallies in 2012 against plans to make the education system of HK more “patriotic” and similar to the mainland.”
He and Chow helped encourage and direct the “Umbrella Movement” in 2014, a nonviolent 79-day takeover of three busy intersections through a campaign overwhelmingly orchestrated by students advocating for universal suffrage.
Wong, among several of the other protagonists of the uprising, was incarcerated for his role in those demonstrations.
He was still in prison when even broader political demonstrations kicked off last year but after his release he made appearances at various rallies.
The demonstrations, however were purposely leaderless, largely orchestrated by social media and encrypted chat forums.
They became even more brutal as well. Thousands of pellets of tear gas and rubber bullets were unleashed by riot police and were often filmed using batons to beat captured protesters.