Joshua Wong and activist associates plead guilty at Hong Kong protest trial

Ágnes Chow, Ivan Lam, Joshua Wong
Agnes Chow (left), Ivan Lam and Joshua Wong all plead guilty

Joshua Wong, a Hong Kong democracy activist and two campaign mates, is facing prison prospects after pleading guilty to illegal gathering during last year’s mass protests.

Mr Wong, Ivan Lam and Agnes Chow appeared in court on Monday.

Mr Wong said he could expect to go to jail, probably five years behind bars.

However, as the alleged crimes took place even before China passed a strict national security law in June, possible life imprisonment was avoided.

The prominent activist revealed that after talking to his lawyer, he decided to change his legal basis.

“The three of us have chosen to plead guilty to all the charges,” Mr Wong told reporters gathered in court on Monday. “It won’t be surprising if they’re in immediate custody today.”

“We will continue to fight for freedom – and now is not the time to surrender to Beijing and surrender,” he added.

The three were placed in pre-trial detention until Dec. 2, by which time they will be sentenced.

What do these fees apply to?

The three were accused of organizing and attending an unauthorized rally.

During the 2019 protests, the Hong Kong police headquarters repeatedly became the target of protesters throwing eggs and spraying graffiti.

Mr. Wong, Mr. Lam, and Ms. Chow were accused of leading, inciting, and joining one of the protests.

Hong Kong policeman
In 2019, Hong Kong police clashed with protesters several times

Mr Wong said earlier that the charges would not deter him, saying he was “convinced that neither the prison bars, nor the election ban, nor any other arbitrary power would stop us from activism.”

“What we are doing now is getting to know the value of the world through our compassion for the world we love, so much so that we are willing to sacrifice our own freedom.”

At the court

Danny Vincent, BBC News, Hong Kong

Protesters facing prison time are not new to today’s Hong Kong – thousands have been arrested since last year and there are weekly protest cases.

But on Monday, three of them were among the most popular activists in Hong Kong in court, and as the prison wagons thought they were being transported back to the detention centers, their supporters gathered, gestured and chanted. Some activists called Joshua Wong in Cantonese when the vans drove away.

Mr Wong used his platform on Monday to draw attention to the plight of 12 young Hong Kong activists who were arrested by boat in an attempt to flee to Taiwan and are currently being held in mainland China.

Many activists feel that the young people here have been attacked. Since last year, more than 10,000 protest-related arrests and more than 2,000 indictments have taken place. More than 1,000 were arrested under the age of 18.

Who are the activists?

Mr. Wong has been involved in the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong for years and has served a number of shorter prison sentences as a result.

As a 24-year-old young student leader, he first came to the fore during the 2014 “Umbrella Movement” and also supported the new wave of protests that shook the area in 2019.

Last year’s protests repeatedly led to fierce clashes between protesters and police.

Beijing has since introduced a comprehensive new security law for Hong Kong, with severe punishment for secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces.

In response, Mr Wong disbanded Demosisto’s pro-democracy group. Mr. Lam and Ms. Chow are also former members of Demosisto.

Ms. Chow had already been arrested under the new Security Act in August this year, but was released on bail.

Prior to Monday’s court appearance, he wrote on Facebook that although he was “mentally prepared,” he still felt frightened before a possible prison, but “I will do everything I can to face him with courage”.

“If I’m sentenced to jail this time, I’m going to jail for the first time in my life,” he wrote. “Compared to many of my friends, however, I suffered very little.”

Why were there protests in Hong Kong?

The former British colony, Hong Kong, was returned to China in 1997, but on the basis of the so-called “one country, two systems” principle.

It had to grant certain freedoms to the area – including freedom of assembly and expression, an independent judiciary and some democratic rights – that do not exist on mainland China.

Activists fear that Beijing’s growing influence in Hong Kong will mean a gradual decline in these rights and freedoms.

Most observers say this year’s National Security Act reinforced these fears, making it easier for protesters to be severely punished.