Joshua Wong (黃之鋒), 24, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent democracy advocates, was jailed yesterday for more than 13 months over an unlawful anti-government rally last year, the toughest and most high-profile sentence for an opposition figure this year.
Wong’s sentence comes as critics say the Hong Kong government is intensifying a crackdown on the opposition and chipping away at wide-ranging freedoms guaranteed after the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997, a charge authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong reject.
Reacting to the court ruling, British Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Dominic Raab urged Hong Kong and Beijing to stop their campaigns to stifle the opposition.
Wong had pleaded guilty to organizing and inciting an unlawful assembly near police headquarters during the height of the sometimes violent demonstrations in June last year. He faced a maximum of three years in jail.
About 100 supporters gathered quietly inside the court ahead of the sentence, while a small group of pro-Beijing protesters rallied outside, calling for a hefty prison sentence.
“I know the coming days will be tougher. We will hang in there,” Wong, wearing a black sweater and mask, shouted after the sentence was read out.
“It’s not the end of the fight,” Wong said later through his lawyers. “Ahead of us is another challenging battleground. We’re now joining the battle in prison along with many brave protesters, less visible yet essential in the fight for democracy and freedom for Hong Kong.”
Wong’s colleagues — Agnes Chow (周庭), 23, and Ivan Lam (林朗彥), 26 — were jailed for 10 and seven months respectively, on charges linked to the same demonstration when thousands of protesters surrounded the police headquarters on June 21 to demand the government withdraw a now-shelved extradition bill.
Chow, who cried inside court on hearing her sentence, had pleaded guilty to incitement and participation in an unlawful protest, while Lam pleaded guilty to incitement.
A familiar face at democracy protests since he was a teenager, Wong was less than one year old when Hong Kong returned to Beijing 23 years ago with a guarantee of freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including freedom of speech and assembly.
Ahead of sentencing, the district court judge read a letter from Wong’s mother to the court in which she said her son was “a young person who cares about society and is persistent in his ideals.”
US Senator Marsha Blackburn accused China of destroying “any semblance of autonomy in Hong Kong.”
“Keep the faith, Joshua, you are truly an inspiration to freedom fighters everywhere,” Blackburn said in a statement.
Rights groups were swift to condemn the rulings.
“By targeting well-known activists from Hong Kong’s largely leaderless protest movement, authorities are sending a warning to anyone who dares openly criticize the government that they could be next,” Amnesty International Asia-Pacific regional director Yamini Mishra said.
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