A Hong Kong court has sentenced prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong to 13-and-a-half months in prison for his role in anti-government protests last year.
Wong, 24, has been one of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy activists in the public unrest that has taken place during the past two years.
He pleaded guilty to organising and inciting an unlawful assembly near the city police headquarters during the height of the demonstrations in June 2019.
“I know the coming days will be tougher, we will hang in there,” Mr Wong shouted after the sentence was read out on Wednesday.
Wong’s colleagues Agnes Chow, 23, and Ivan Lam, 26, were jailed for 10 and seven months, respectively, after pleading guilty to charges linked to the same siege of police headquarters at the height of the protests in June 2019.
Chow, who cried inside the court room on hearing the sentence, had pleaded guilty to incitement and participation in an unlawful protest, while Lam pleaded guilty to incitement.
The judge reduced the overall jail terms after the guilty pleas.
‘A big loss to civil society’
Gwenyth Ho, a former pro-democracy candidate for the legislative council and a friend of Wong, said his prison sentence was unreasonable.
Ms Ho said he was being made an example of because of he’s “under such a huge international spotlight”.
“Joshua has always been a target, for not only protests in Hong Kong, but also the state media in China and also the foreign Ministry of China.”
@nathanlawkc and I co-wrote a piece on NYT, calling for president-elect Biden to deliver on his promise to Hong Kongers. We will not back down from oppression and absurdity and we will take back our city—that’s a promise that we will fulfill by all means.https://t.co/8ZyLzbruh8
— Alex Chow (@alexchow18) December 2, 2020
She said the more Wong gets international support, the more he’s persecuted in Hong Kong.
Sunny Cheung, 24, a pro-democracy activist in exile, told the ABC he was “desperate” upon hearing of Wong’s sentence.
“Whenever you feel the movement is losing momentum and vigour, I think he [Joshua Wong] is the one who always has the faith in Hongkongers,” he said.
Wong, who was just 17 when he became the face of the 2014 student-led Umbrella Movement democracy protests, originally faced a maximum three-year jail term.
He was not a leading figure in last year’s pro-democracy and anti-China protests, but his continued activism has drawn the wrath of Beijing, which sees him as a “black hand” of foreign forces.
Mr Cheung, who’s both a supporter and friend of Wong, said even though Wong was not the leader of the pro-democracy movement, he had influence in both local and international politics.
“His ability to bring the voices of Hongkongers to the international community is unmatched and thanks to him the world knows more about Hong Kong.”
He said Wong’s detainment was “a big loss to the civil society”.
In a statement sent to the ABC, Australian pro-democracy group Australia-Hong Kong Link said activists “will not give up easily” despite attempts to “weaken the international front by suppressing young political leaders”.
“The only thing we can do is to send a strong voice to the international community to express our concern for the human rights issues in Hong Kong,” the statement said.
Claims of unfair treatment in prison
Mr Wong was remanded in custody on November 23 after he pleaded guilty to organising and taking part in an unauthorised assembly outside the police headquarters in June 2019.
Mr Wong’s Twitter account, which is operated by his friends, posted a letter Mr Wong allegedly wrote from prison, in solitary confinement.
It read: “Although I have been in prison three times, being held in the prison isolation unit is far beyond my expectation.”
#JoshuaWong’s first letter from prison
1. Though I've been in prison three times, solitary confinement is far beyond my expectation. It's indeed hard to endure, but as many #hkprotesters face lawsuits/imprisonment like me, I hope you continue letting them know they are not alone pic.twitter.com/RkQBN7wq36
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 😷 (@joshuawongcf) November 30, 2020
The letter added that officers suspected he had “possessed drugs in my body”. He said “the treatment was even worse than normal solitary confinement.”
Exiled political activist and founder of Hong Kong’s NGO Keyboard Frontline, Glacier Kwong, 24 said Mr Wong was receiving maltreatment from his first week in prison.
“[He was] subjected to solitary confinement in a cell with the lights on for 24 hours, which have caused him sleep disorders,” she said.
“He can only fall asleep by covering his eyes with his hand.”
Ms Kwong, who is colleagues with Wong, Chow, and Lam, said the trio’s sentences were “very harsh” even though she “expected worse”.
Wong’s sentence comes as critics of the Beijing-backed government have said it is intensifying a crackdown on Hong Kong’s opposition and wide-ranging freedoms guaranteed after the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 – a charge authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong reject.
Under Hong Kong’s handover agreement, Beijing promised to maintain the city’s way of life for 50 years under a “one country, two systems” formula, although some fear 2047 is arriving early as authorities tighten their grip.
Despite the sentences, Ms Kwong said the democracy movement was still alive.
“It is true that a sweeping crackdown is on its way, but we will fight on. We are not blindly optimistic. We are fully aware of the dire straits we are in. Yet we actively choose to fight on, for the fundamental rights and freedom we ought to be able to enjoy,” she said.
“Joshua said himself, his activism will not be stopped by the prison, he will try his best to continue, and so will we.”
The ABC contacted the Hong Kong Correctional Services Department (CSD) for comment on Wong’s reports of unfair treatment.
In a statement it said: “CSD will not comment on any individual cases.”
It added: “To prevent any unauthorised articles from being introduced into correctional institutions, CSD will conduct security checks, which includes X-ray body scanning, against all newly admitted persons in custody.
“If a suspected case is found, CSD will activate the security mechanism, in accordance with the law, to remove the person in custody from association for sanitisation process.”