Hong Kong pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong and two other prominent activists pleaded guilty Monday morning to inciting and organizing “unauthorized assembly” at the height of last year’s demonstrations, a charge that could leave them facing up to five years in prison.
Wong, alongside fellow campaigners Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam, confirmed their guilty plea Monday morning regarding the invasion of headquarters of the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPH) in June last year. The three men were then taken away before their sentencing early next month.
Later on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian backed the prosecution against Wong, claiming it was part of the region’s efforts to safeguard its security.
“This is not a diplomatic problem,” Zhao said. “We support relevant departments of HKSAR government to perform their functions in accordance with the law.”
Wong’s prosecution comes several months after the imposition of China’s “national security law,” which represents the gravest violation of Hong Kong’s sovereignty since its succession from the United Kingdom in 1997.
Under the new law, essentially all forms of active political opposition are considered a crime, making the once autonomous region almost indistinguishable from the repression of China. The law explicitly mandates at least ten years in prison for “secession,” “terrorism,” “foreign interference,” and “subversion of state power.” The law has paved the way for the arrests of Wong and hundreds of other pro-democracy campaigners.
Wong, who is 24 years old, has long been one of Hong Kong’s most famous and influential pro-democracy campaigners after entering activism during the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests. However, he is one of the over 10,000 people facing charges for their role in the anti-China demonstrations.
In a message uploaded to Twitter from custody, Wong attempted to draw attention away from his own plight and highlight the repression of dozens of his fellow campaigners.
“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,” he wrote.
“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,” he continued. “I’m still learning to conquer the fear and I believe you are with me along this journey.”
4. 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. I'm still learning to conquer the fear and I believe you are with me along this journey.
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 😷 (@joshuawongcf) November 23, 2020
The Chinese communist propaganda outlet Global Times cited “experts” describing Wong’s guilty plea as another “political performance.”
“When they are unable to make trouble, they hope to attract political attention again by going to prison,” the outlet quoted one expert as saying. “It is more like a halo for these people, accumulating political capital for their subsequent elections.”
Wong and the other two men will return for sentencing on December 2.