A court sentenced Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy leader, Joshua Wong, on Tuesday to 13.5 months in prison after pleading guilty to charges of organizing “unauthorized assembly” during last year’s demonstrations against illegal Chinese interference in the region’s affairs.
The verdict comes just over a week after Wong entered a guilty plea for his role in organizing a protest that resulted in the storming of the headquarters of the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPH) in June 2019. He received his sentence alongside fellow activists Agnes Chow, 23, and Ivan Lam, 26, who were sentenced to ten months and seven months respectively.
On sentencing, Judge Wong Sze-lai said he had taken the men’s past records into account and that jail time was the only appropriate punishment to deter future criminal acts. The three men were taken back to jail immediately.
“The court has considered that the offending period of the three defendants lasted for around 15 minutes and all the facts of the case, including that they committed the offence in a joint enterprise under the prevailing circumstances of increasing incidents of social unrest and large scale public protests, which in the court’s view, made the case more serious,” the judge said.
Wong’s sentencing follows reports that authorities recently placed him in solitary confinement accusing him of being a drug mule, allegedly finding an unverifiable object in his stomach during X-ray examinations. Describing his period in isolation, Wong claimed that guards had prohibited him from leaving his cell, even for a moment’s exercise, subjected him to regular blood tests, and left the lights on 24 hours a day to prevent him from sleeping.
Despite Hong Kong’s mini-constitution protecting the right to free assembly, the crackdown on prominent political activism comes after China unconstitutionally imposed a “national security law” through Beijing on the region in May. Under the new legislation, effectively all forms of political dissidence against Beijing are illegal, with offenders facing up to ten years in prison crimes including “secession,” “terrorism,” “foreign interference,” and “subversion of state power.”
The law, which represents the most serious violation ever of the “One Country, Two Systems” agreement signed with the United Kingdom in 1997, has consequently paved the way for the arrests of Wong and some 10,000 other pro-democracy campaigners, the majority of whom are facing minor charges related to last year’s demonstrations.
At just 24 years old, Wong has become Hong Kong’s most influential pro-democracy campaigner after rising to prominence during the 2014 protests known as the Umbrella Movement. In comments posted on his Twitter account, he urged his supporters to not give up the fight for freedom.
“It’s not the end of the fight,” he wrote. “Ahead of us is another challenging battleground. We’re now joining the battle in prison along with many brave protestors, less visible yet essential in the fight for democracy and freedom for [Hong Kong.] The tenacity of HKers continues to give us strength in our sufferings. Please, take your positions, give support to each other.”
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 😷 (@joshuawongcf) December 2, 2020
The Chinese state propaganda outlet Global Times responded to his sentencing by quoting Tian Feilong, a “Hong Kong affairs expert at Beihang University,” as saying the issuing of prison sentences should not have take so long.
“If Hong Kong’s judges had imposed such sentences according to local legislation on public security and criminal offenses to defend the authority of rule of law instead of acting like ‘moral magistrates,’ Hong Kong wouldn’t have been convulsed by violence for so long that the central government had to impose a national security law,” Tian said.