Fellow activists Agnes Chow, 23, and Ivan Lam, 26, were sentenced to 10 months and seven months respectively. Wong said last week he expected to be jailed after admitting organising the event early on in Hong Kong’s recent protest movement, which began with millions marching against an extradition bill before growing into a broader pro-democracy push.
At the West Kowloon magistrates court on Wednesday, the 24-year-old was sentenced to a total of 13 and a half months in jail for organising and inciting others to attend an unlawful assembly outside the police headquarters in June 2019.
The judge, Wong Sze-lai, took the prior records of Lam and Wong into account and said jail time was the only appropriate option in order to deter others. “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.
Hong Kong’s mini-constitution protects the right to free assembly. Wong and others were high-profile members of the protest movement, but it was considered to be largely leaderless. The three were jailed immediately, and an application from Chow for bail pending an appeal was reportedly rejected.
Wong had pleaded guilty to organising and incitement, Lam to incitement, and Chow to incitement and attending. Wong and Lam had initially intended to fight the charges, until announcing on the eve of the trial that they would plead guilty to some. Chow, who is also facing potential charges under the national security law after being arrested in August, had already determined to plead guilty in the hope of a less sentence.
Before leaving court last week, Wong shouted: “Everyone hang in there, add oil,” using a phrase of encouragement meaning “let’s go” commonly heard at protests. As he was led away on Wednesday, he shouted: “I will hang in there.”
The three were denied bail after entering their pleas and taken into remand. Wong was held in solitary confinement after an X-ray reportedly showed a “shadow” in his stomach, according to a post on the activist’s social media page. Both Wong and Lam have been previously incarcerated, but it was the first time on remand for Chow, who turns 24 on Thursday. She recently said she was struggling mentally while being held, and was visibly distressed during Wednesday’s sentencing.
More than 10,000 protesters have been arrested over Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, many on questionable charges of rioting and unauthorised assembly that have not held up in court. Chow and Wong gained notoriety during the 79-day “umbrella movement” protests in 2014 that demanded universal suffrage for Hongkongers.
As a result of those protests, Wong, Chow, and their fellow activist now living in the UK, Nathan Law, co-founded the pro-democracy Demosisto political party. Its four candidates elected to the legislative council were disqualified for modifying the oath of office when they tried to take their seats. The party was formally disbanded after the introduction of the national security law in June.
Law said the sentencing constituted “another blatant attack on the Hong Kong activists, whose wishes are solely bringing democracy to Hong Kong”. The UK foreign minister, Dominic Raab, said prosecutions must be fair and impartial, and the rights and freedoms of Hong Kongers upheld. “I urge the Hong Kong and Beijing authorities to bring an end to their campaign to stifle opposition,” he said.
Wong and Chow are two of the most high-profile figures of the pro-democracy movement. After Wong’s arrest in September, the British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said he was “deeply concerned” and described it as “another example of HK authorities targeting activists”.
Wong has maintained a defiant approach during the court case, saying last week: “I am persuaded that neither prison bars, nor election ban, nor any other arbitrary powers would stop us from activism.”
Chow, who gave up her British citizenship to run in Hong Kong elections, was one of the first Demosisto politicians barred from standing for office because the party advocated “self-determination”.
One of her most successful roles has been bringing international attention to Hong Kong’s democracy movement, aided by her fluency in English, Cantonese and Japanese. She built a huge social media following in Japan in particular. Chow was arrested in August under the national security law, on the vague suspicion of “colluding with foreign forces”.
At least 31 people have been arrested under the national security law imposed by Beijing in late June, which outlaws a broad range of acts as sedition, secession, foreign collusion, and terrorism.
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