One of the greatest figureheads of the Hong Kong protest movement, Joshua Wong, has been sentenced to over a year in prison. Once all members of a now-disbanded pro-democracy group called Demosisto, the New York Times reports that other anti-Beijing icons Agnes Chow and Jimmy Lam also face 10 and seven months respectively.
These arrests are massive blows to the Hong Kong Independence movement which began in March 2019 in response to the Extradition Bill.
According to BBC News, this bill would have allowed for those arrested in Hong Kong to be transferred to the jurisdiction of Taiwan, mainland China or Macau, though it has now been withdrawn. Nonetheless, the protestors refuse to back down and they are now pushing for Hong Kong to become fully autonomous.
Wong, Lam and Chow lived through the first days of the Chinese Communist Party regime and have since become adamant protestors of the party. According to New York Times, almost ten years ago, when Wong and Lam were only scrappy teenagers, they led the fight against China’s plan for a national curriculum in Hong Kong schools, which they believed would be used for indoctrination purposes. In 2014, the trio continued their work and led protests against the Umbrella movement, an attempt by the communist regime to control and minimize direct elections.
According to Human Rights Watch, the famous trio now faces charges for a different event. On July 12, 2019, tens of thousands swarmed outside Hong Kong’s legislature to oppose the extradition bills. This event ended in police brutality, as officers used teargas, rubber bullets and baton rounds to clear demonstrators from the area.
As a result, on June 21, 10,000 more waited outside of the Hong Kong Police headquarters, calling for an explanation from police chief Lo-Wai Chung about the violence, according to the Human Rights Watch. Nobody was injured this time. However, according to BBC News this gathering, along with the Demosisto group’s involvement in it, was illegal under China’s new national security law, which gives officials the power to limit their citizen’s access to free speech and assembly.
The New York Times reports many members of this movement, including anti-Beijing politicians as well as members of the media and activists, have been jailed due to this law including Jimmy Lai, founder of Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy publication. Other independent and anti-Beijing organizations are facing major heat from the mainland government as well.
According to the New York Times, it is possible Wong, Lam and Chow will face a much more serious sentence than what currently stands. Wong already faces charges for his involvement in an October 2019 protest and a memorial for those killed in the famous 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
In addition, though Wong has barely begun his year-long sentence, he has already faced extreme punishment in the form of solitary confinement, according to the New York Times. This charge was made under the suspicion that Wong had consumed a foreign object and attempted to smuggle it into the prison.
While scans now show that there was no such object, Wong spent three days in a cell alone, where the harsh prison lights never once shut off. Both Wong and Chow, who is considered the “Mulan” of the pro-democracy movement, say they have had great difficulty sleeping since being jailed.
Some demand that these activists are set free, for though the protests turned out to be violent, these people did not directly incite such brutality.
“Hong Kong authorities should drop all criminal cases and release from custody those arrested or convicted for their peaceful participation in pro-democracy protests,” Human Rights Watch a nonprofit that works to defend human rights in 90 countries worldwide, said in a December 2020 article.
On a more positive note, Time Magazine reports that Wong has found a certain repose in prison life. After almost a decade of hard-core protesting and obsessive media attention, he is sure to be exhausted and might value some time away from the public eye. At least in prison, he can evade the stressful question of “what’s next?” for now.