Activist Wong seized in new crackdown
Joshua Wong, the prominent Hong Kong activist, was arrested on Thursday, local time, for ‘‘unlawful assembly’’ related to a protest and for allegedly violating a mask ban in 2019, as the authorities crack down on the city’s pro-democracy movement.
Wong has since been released, with a trial date set for September 30.
According to Wong’s Twitter account, he faces the maximum penalty for both charges – five years in prison for unlawful assembly and one year for wearing a mask. ‘‘Today’s arrest is a notorious abuse to the criminal justice system by placing charges ruled unconstitutional earlier. However, I choose not to surrender,’’ he tweeted.
Supporters of Wong, 23,broke the news via his Twitter account that he was being held for violating the ‘‘draconian antimask law’’, which was introduced last October after Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, invoked a colonial-era emergency law. ‘‘The arrest is related to participating in an unauthorised assembly on October 5 last year. He is told to have violated the draconian anti-mask law as well,’’ Wong’s official Twitter account said.
The protest in question took place at the height of the prodemocracy unrest which roiled the city last year.
The mask ban has since been ruled unconstitutional, and the government declared in July that face masks would be made compulsory in public as the densely populated global financial hub grappled with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking to reporters after his release from custody, Wong said this was the third time the authorities had started a case against him over his prodemocracy activities since his release from a one-month jail stint last June for obstructing the clearance of a 2014 mass protest.
He said he was being targeted by Beijing’s campaign to create a ‘‘chilling effect’’ on activists calling for democratic governance and greater civil rights in the former British colony.
‘‘[The authorities) can prosecute us, they can arrest us, they can lock us up in prison, but they can’t censor our commitment to continue to fight for freedom,’’ he said. Wong told The Daily Telegraph it was ‘‘not a coincidence’’
that the authorities had picked September 30 for his trial date – one day before China’s National Day, when a further protest is planned.
‘‘During the outbreak of Covid-19, to arrest somebody because of wearing a mask last year is really ironic,’’ he said.
Johnny Patterson, director of
London-based advocacy group Hong Kong Watch said Wong’s arrest was the ‘‘latest example of flagrant political prosecution’’ in the Chinese-controlled city.
‘‘Wong’s participation in peaceful demonstrations is no crime,’’ he said.
Wong’s latest arrest adds to several unlawful assembly
charges or suspected offences he and other activists are facing over last year’s anti-government protests, which prompted Beijing to impose a sweeping national security law on June 30.
The new law punishes anything China considers as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with up to life in prison.
Its introduction, which bypassed scrutiny by the local legislature, created an international outcry for bulldozing a binding deal between the UK and Beijing when Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 that guaranteed the city’s way of life until 2047. – Telegraph Group
Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong displays a bail paper outside Central Police Station in Hong Kong.