Joshua Wong on bail af­ter lat­est ar­rest

Bei­jing ‘de­ter­mined to ex­er­cise iron fist’

Bangkok Post - - ASIA -

HONG KONG: Joshua Wong, one of Hong Kong’s most vis­i­ble pro-democ­racy ac­tivists, has been ar­rested mul­ti­ple times for tak­ing part in anti-govern­ment protests that erupted over the past year and roiled the city for months be­fore the coronaviru­s pan­demic hit.

And when he walked into the Cen­tral Po­lice Sta­tion on Thurs­day as part of a reg­u­lar check-in, he was ar­rested again — this time, po­lice said, not only for at­tend­ing an unau­tho­rised demon­stra­tion last Oc­to­ber, but also for vi­o­lat­ing a govern­ment ban on wear­ing a mask dur­ing that gath­er­ing.

Mr Wong sug­gested that au­thor­i­ties had po­lit­i­cal mo­tives for charg­ing him for wear­ing a mask at a pre-pan­demic protest. The ar­rest came at a time when the out­break had made mask-wear­ing ubiq­ui­tous in the Chi­nese ter­ri­tory.

“I be­lieve an ob­vi­ous rea­son is that the regime’s au­thor­i­ties are over­lap­ping one case with an­other to try to con­fine all ac­tivists within Hong Kong’s bor­ders,” he said out­side the sta­tion.

Other ac­tivists have fled the city or have tried to do so, fear­ing the loss of myr­iad free­doms and harsher crack­downs un­der a sweep­ing na­tional se­cu­rity law im­posed on Hong Kong in June to quell the con­tin­ued protests.

“No mat­ter what hap­pens,” Mr Wong said, “I will still con­tinue to re­sist and hope to let the world to know how Hong Kongers choose not to sur­ren­der.”

Dixon Sing, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at the Hong Kong Univer­sity of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy, said while the ar­rest came at a time when res­i­dents are legally re­quired to wear masks in public to fight the pan­demic, the govern­ment would ar­gue that the con­text last year that led to Mr Wong’s in­dict­ment on Thurs­day was dif­fer­ent.

“The mes­sage is very clear: Bei­jing is de­ter­mined to ex­er­cise an iron [fist] to try to sti­fle the lo­cal po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion and also try to frighten peo­ple away from sup­port­ing their causes.”

In ad­di­tion to Mr Wong, an­other vet­eran ac­tivist, Koo Sze-yiu, was ar­rested on Thurs­day in con­nec­tion with the Oc­to­ber protest, the League of So­cial Democrats said.

The po­lice on Thurs­day con­firmed, with­out nam­ing them, per pro­to­col, that two men had been ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of “un­know­ingly tak­ing part in an unau­tho­rised assem­bly” and would face for­mal charges in court on Sept 30.

The day be­fore Mr Wong at­tended the protest on Oct 5, the govern­ment, us­ing emer­gency pow­ers, im­ple­mented the ban on masks. Pro­test­ers had be­gun wear­ing face cov­er­ings to pro­tect their iden­ti­ties when they marched on the street. And Car­rie Lam, Hong Kong’s pro-Bei­jing leader, de­ployed a rarely used colo­nial-era law in Oc­to­ber to ban masks in an at­tempt to quell the anti-govern­ment protests. But pro­test­ers mostly ig­nored the rule. The ban fur­ther in­flamed ten­sions in the city and set off more demon­stra­tions, as well as vi­o­lent clashes.

The mask ban came months be­fore the coronaviru­s emerged and spread around the world.

A court later ruled that parts of the states’s mask ban were un­con­sti­tu­tional. In April, the Court of Ap­peal ruled that face cov­er­ings were per­mis­si­ble at protests ap­proved by au­thor­i­ties, but backed the state’s right to ban masks at unau­tho­rised gath­er­ings.

Mr Wong, 23, has al­ready served two short prison sen­tences for his prodemoc­racy ac­tiv­i­ties and is ex­pect­ing to face two other tri­als re­lated to a protest out­side po­lice head­quar­ters last year and an an­nual vigil hon­our­ing vic­tims of the 1989 Tianan­men Square protests.

He was among a dozen can­di­dates barred from an up­com­ing leg­isla­tive elec­tion, weeks af­ter China im­posed the na­tional se­cu­rity law. Then the govern­ment post­poned the elec­tion by one year, cit­ing the pan­demic — a move the pro-democ­racy op­po­si­tion con­sid­ered an at­tempt to thwart its elec­toral mo­men­tum and avoid the po­ten­tial de­feat of pro-Bei­jing can­di­dates.

Re­cently, health au­thor­i­ties made masks manda­tory in public places to fight a wave of in­fec­tions. The state, cit­ing the pan­demic, then ex­tended its ban on public gath­er­ings of more than four peo­ple to Oct 1, China’s Na­tional Day. That is when an an­nual pro-democ­racy protest usu­ally takes place.

AFP

Pro-democ­racy ac­tivist Joshua Wong speaks to the me­dia while hold­ing up a bail doc­u­ment af­ter leav­ing Cen­tral po­lice sta­tion in Hong Kong on Thurs­day.

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