Joshua Wong on bail after latest arrest
Beijing ‘determined to exercise iron fist’
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.
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.