Twenty-two-year-old Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong was released from prison on Monday after serving one month of a two-month sentence for his role in the Umbrella Movement demonstrations of 2014.
The irrepressible Wong immediately joined the swelling protest movement that brought hundreds of thousands of people to the streets on Sunday and called for the resignation of chief executive Carrie Lam.
Wong was one of 20 people charged with refusing to comply with orders to vacate a protest camp during the Umbrella Movement, which until now was the largest and loudest series of demonstrations by democracy advocates since China took control of Hong Kong in 1997. He served half of his two-month prison sentence last year, was released on bail pending an appeal, and returned to serve the other half of his sentence just as protests against a proposed extradition law grew so huge that the pro-Beijing government suspended the bill.
Wong exuberantly took to social media as soon as he was released, congratulating the demonstrators and urging them to continue until they achieve their ultimate objective of permanently killing the extradition bill and forcing Lam to resign:
Hello world and hello freedom. I have just been released from prison. GO HONG KONG!! Withdraw the extradition bill. Carrie Lam step down. Drop all political prosecutions!
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 (@joshuawongcf) June 17, 2019
“I thank the two million people who marched yesterday, and the one million people last week, and those Hong Kong people on the frontlines defending violent attacks by the police on June 12,” Wong said on Monday.
“We demand Carrie Lam step down, retract the extradition bill, and withdraw the labeling of ‘riot.’ Stop arresting and charging protesters – otherwise, Hong Kong people will fight back more. Hong Kong people will not bow down to the authoritarian regime,” he continued, referring to the controversial pseudo-apology given by Lam in which she denounced the demonstrators as violent rioters.
Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo also characterized the demonstrations as a “riot” last week, but on Monday he backed down in the face of public anger and said police would charge only five individuals clearly apprehended in the midst of violent actions with rioting.
Lo continued to defend a police response to the demonstrations criticized as unnecessarily forceful, but his forces were noticeably more restrained on Sunday, patrolling the massive demonstrations in regular uniforms rather than riot gear.
“Carrie Lam apologizing is useless because the damage has been done. Now is the time for Carrie Lam to step down, bare the political responsibility and withdraw any plans to prosecute activists,” Wong told Deutsche Welle in an interview on Monday, vowing to continue fighting against the “evil’ extradition law.
Wong predicted the Hong Kong government would be unable to ignore the protest movement, which only grew larger after what demonstrators saw as a partial victory this weekend when hearings on the bill were suspended indefinitely.
“We are waiting for the miracle and turning something from impossible to possible,” he said.
Deutsche Welle noted that Chinese state media refused to cover the gigantic Hong Kong protests and censored all mentions of them from social media.
Wong told CNN the balance of power in Hong Kong is shifting against Beijing and its loyalists in the city’s government.
“It’s really good timing to join the fight for freedom and democracy,” he said. “Five years ago after the end of the Umbrella Movement, we claimed we would be back. Yesterday 2 million people came to the streets.”
Although the mainland Chinese government restated its “firm support” for Lam on Sunday, Wong predicted her days in office are numbered.
“Why did Carrie Lam need to wait to suspend the bill until 1 million people came to the streets? It’s because she’s not elected by the people of Hong Kong. It’s time for her to step down,” he said.
“Hong Kong is just a small international city with seven million citizens, but two million people came to the streets, it shows that we have the consensus. She has to end her political career,” he insisted.
CNN noted that Wong’s Demosisto party appealed for continued international support as it presses for a permanent and irrevocable end to the extradition bill and the resignation of Carrie Lam, and Wong himself expressed gratitude for support from Taiwan.
Taiwan’s opposition to the extradition bill was especially important because Hong Kong officials consistently cited a Taiwanese murder case as the reason for streamlining extradition to other countries. Critics were equally consistent in warning the changes would allow the Chinese Communist Party to grab people from Hong Kong, including visiting foreigners, and drag them into the abusive and highly politicized Chinese justice system.
Wong was eager to take the fight from Hong Kong to Beijing, calling out China’s autocratic Communist Party chief Xi Jinping by name.
“We will not keep silent under the suppression of President Xi and the Chief Executive Carrie Lam,” he declared.
“Carrie Lam must step down, otherwise I believe in the next few weeks, before the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong transfer of sovereignty, more and more Hong Kong people … will come and join our fight until the day we get back our basic human rights and freedom,” he said, referring to the July 1 anniversary of China assuming control.
The South China Morning Post on Sunday quoted Beijing-based Professor Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of a government-linked think tank called the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, judging that the Chinese government cannot afford to formally withdraw the extradition bill instead of offering the face-saving partial measure of indefinitely “suspending” it, nor can it allow the demonstrators to score a massive victory by forcing Lam to resign.
“Beijing had repeatedly voiced support for the changes to the extradition laws and if it is totally shelved, to the central government, it would be a total defeat,” said Lau.
“And it would open a Pandora’s box of other demands and the foreign forces could, through the opposition camp here, take effective control of Hong Kong’s governance,” he added, predicting Hong Kong democracy activists would immediately push for even more concessions if they defeat Lam.