Supporters hold up signs after the sentencing of pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam, at West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts in Hong Kong, China, December 2 2020. Picture: REUTERS/LAM YIK
Supporters hold up signs after the sentencing of pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam, at West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts in Hong Kong, China, December 2 2020. Picture: REUTERS/LAM YIK

Hong Kong — Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong urged supporters to “hang on” after he was sentenced to more than a year in jail for leading a protest outside police headquarters in 2019, prompting angry cries outside the court in one of the most high-profile cases in the government’s crackdown on the pro-democracy movement.

“I know it’s so difficult, but I’ll hold on,” he yelled to supporters after the sentence was read out.

On Wednesday, Wong was sentenced to 13.5 months in West Kowloon magistrates’ courts on charges of organising an unauthorised assembly in June 2019 and inciting others to take part. The 24-year-old leader of the city’s 2014 Occupy protests had pleaded guilty last week to the charges, which carried a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

Activists Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam, who were both members of Wong’s now-disbanded political party Demosisto, also pleaded guilty over their roles in the protest. Chow was sentenced to 10 months in jail while Lam was given seven months. After the sentencing, Lam shouted: “Never regret it!”

About 100 people outside the courtroom cried out in anger once they heard the verdict. “Add oil!” they yelled, using one of the protest movement’s slogans. “We’ll wait for you!” Rival pro-China supporters chanted that Wong, Chow and Lam deserved to be locked up “forever”, and popped bottles of sparkling wine in celebration.

“In sentencing, the court must take into account factors such as protecting the public, meting out penalties, open condemnation and deterrence,” magistrate Wong Sze Lai wrote in his decision. “As the present case involves a breach of public order and safety, as well as a threat to the personal safety of the public, deterrent sentences are warranted to safeguard public interests and the lives and property of the people.”

The June 21 2019, siege outside the Hong Kong police force’s compound in Wan Chai was among the most dramatic moments in the early days of last year’s historic protests against legislation that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. Wong — then fresh out of jail — joined the rally to oppose the police’s decision to teargas against protesters.

Dozens of high-profile democracy advocates, including lawmakers, lawyers and billionaire media mogul Jimmy Lai, are facing jail time as CEO Carrie Lam’s government seeks to punish participants in last year’s largely leaderless protests. Police have arrested more than 10,000 people on various allegations, including 26 under new national security legislation carrying sentences as long as life in prison.

The effort to prosecute Wong — who testified before the US Congress in 2019 and was subject of the Netflix documentary Joshua: Teenager vs Superpower — has drawn condemnation from Western government officials. Chow’s case has also helped solidify criticism of Beijing in Japan, where local media has dubbed her “the goddess of democracy”.

Shortly after the sentencing, Hong Kong democracy activists Nathan Law and Alex Chow, living the UK and US respectively, published an op-ed in the New York Times calling for a global alliance to push back against China and on Washington to do more for the city’s residents as Beijing cracks down.

“We hope that the Biden administration will review and reform asylum policies for Hong Kongers and take a close look at sanctions against those who attack the city’s democratic institutions,” they wrote. “Critical decisions also need to be made by the new administration about the protection of minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet and strengthening diplomatic ties with Taiwan.”

Before the sentencing, two pro-democracy supporters chanting outside the court in support of Wong were quickly cleared from the scene by police, who said they had been standing on the court’s driveway.

“The protest movement is over,” said Alexandra Wong, a protester known as Grandma Wong who attended rallies over the course of Hong Kong’s unrest last year, outside the court. “They’re arresting all lawmakers, even young activists, teenagers, even a grandma like me. Put charges on us for nothing, trying to silence us. It’s over.”

Previous sentence

Joshua Wong previously served more than four months in jail for leading protests in 2014, when he was still a high school student. After pleading guilty last week, Wong was taken into custody where he was held for some 72 hours in a lit hospital room because police wanted to determine whether a shadow on a stomach X-ray indicated he had swallowed a foreign substance.

The activist is still facing charges related to his participation in an annual candlelight vigil to mark the June 4 1989, crackdown on Tiananmen Square activists in Beijing, which was banned due to coronavirus restrictions.

He’s also among those arrested over an October 2019 protest against a ban on masks that has since been ruled unconstitutional and replaced with a requirement to wear them.


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