Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong has been remanded in custody after pleading guilty to charges linked to anti-government protests last year as authorities crack down on pro-democracy figures in the city.
Wong, 24, a leader of the city’s 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, could face up to three years in jail after he and two fellow activists were charged with organising, participating in and inciting others to take part in an unlawful assembly.
“What we are doing now is to explain the value of freedom to the world,” Wong said outside the court, before his detention.
The arrest of the young activist, who has become the face of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, follows increasingly violent protests last year against a bill that would allowed the territory to extradite suspects to mainland China.
In response, Beijing this year imposed a national security law on the city that punishes crimes such as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Wong, whose case involved incidents that occurred prior to the introduction of the national security law, said the charges against him were relatively mild compared with others who were facing prosecution under the security legislation.
He pleaded guilty to charges of inciting others to knowingly take part in an illegal assembly and organising an unlawful assembly but not guilty to knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly.
Agnes Chow, 23, a former leading figure of Wong’s now disbanded political group Demosisto, also pleaded guilty to two charges. Demosisto’s former chairman Ivan Lam, 26, pleaded guilty to one charge. The pair were also remanded in custody and the trio will be sentenced on December 2.
The charges stem from an incident in June 2019 when protesters surrounded Hong Kong’s police headquarters as part of street protests against the extradition bill.
The demonstration occurred a few days after Wong was released from prison after serving a sentence for contempt of court linked to the 2014 protests.
Chinese state media have branded Wong an “instigator of the Hong Kong riots” and an independence activist.
Police have made more than 10,000 protest-related arrests for crimes ranging from rioting to assault and arson.
Wong added that his likely prison sentence “was the least ridiculous outcome among others that happened recently in Hong Kong”. He pointed to the arrests of more than 20 activists, journalists and pro-democracy legislators in recent weeks. Amnesty International has criticised the arrest of the lawmakers, saying the national security law should not be used to limit freedom of expression in the city’s de facto parliament.
At the weekend, two pro-democracy politicians elected to the city’s district councils, were arrested for conspiracy to defraud over election expenses.
An online radio host was also arrested under the national security law in relation to a crowdfunding campaign to support protesters escaping to Taiwan.
Separately, Alexandra Wong, an elderly activist known as “Granny Wong”, who frequently waved a British flag at protests, was arrested on Friday for an alleged assault in January 2019. She had recently returned to the city after being detained in mainland China.