“No riots, only tyranny!” he is crying. The crowds sang with him.
It was Wong’s determination and fearlessness that has repeatedly put the 24-year-old in the crosshairs of authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing.
And it was this particular event that led to his current situation.
Wong, who will be sentenced Wednesday afternoon for the incident, has already served several sentences in connection with his role in the 2014 Umbrella pro-democracy protests. At the time, he was only 17 years old, but he became the poster of the mass civil disobedience movement, which immobilized parts of the city’s business district for 79 days.
The activist is now expected to be sentenced to another prison term, this time up to three years, during the June rally during last year’s unprecedented anti-government protests, which started in opposition to an extradition bill with mainland China.
Wong was charged alongside two other activists, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam. All three, who were members of the now disbanded Demosisto political group, pleaded guilty to organizing and inciting an unauthorized meeting. At a court hearing on November 23, all three were remanded in custody before sentencing.
“Maybe the authorities want me to stay in jail one term at a time,” Wong said before his last court appearance. “But I am convinced that neither the prison bars, nor the electoral ban, nor any other arbitrary power would prevent us from activating. ”
Outgoing pro-democracy MP Fernando Cheung, who visited Wong on Saturday in detention at the Lai Chi Kok reception center, told Al Jazeera that Wong was “in a good mood.”
According to Cheung, Wong spent three days in isolation – in a 70 square foot (6.5 square meters) room in a hospital – because authorities suspected he may have carried “irregular objects” in his body.
“Solitary confinement was torture for him because he was totally disconnected from the rest of the world,” Cheung said, calling the punishment “ridiculous.”
In a written response to Al Jazeera’s questions about the allegations, the Hong Kong Department of Corrections said it would not comment on individual cases.
However, the CSD said: “To prevent unauthorized items from being brought into correctional facilities, the CSD will carry out security checks, including body x-rays, against all those newly admitted to detention. If a suspected case is discovered, the CSD will activate the security mechanism, according to the law, to remove the detained person from the association for the disinfection process. ”
Wong would now be back in a regular cell.
“Despite such adversity,” said Cheung, “Joshua wants us to keep our heads up. He wants us all to take care of ourselves and each other.
He added that the activist remains provocative, telling him: “As we continue to live, so does the movement”.
The latest trial is part of a wave of prosecutions and arrests since Beijing imposed the National Security Law, which criminalizes what it calls secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces.
Beijing sees Wong and other Hong Kong activists who have lobbied for international support as “black hands” of Western powers trying to meddle in its internal affairs. He also defended the far-reaching legislation as crucial to restoring stability and peace to the territory after the 2019 unrest.
Critics say the law stifles Hong Kong’s vibrant civil society and the freedoms promised to the territory when it was returned to China from the UK in 1997.
Wong also faces charges of attending an unauthorized assembly in October last year and June 4, 2020, during a vigil for the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. In July, he did not he was not allowed to run for a seat in the city’s legislature until the elections themselves were postponed for a year.
It is likely that Wong’s pious family, who raised him as a Protestant Christian, encouraged his sense of activism from an early age. His father, Roger Wong, was part of an initiative against same-sex marriage and is said to have often taken his son to visit the poor in the city as a child.
Wong kept his religious views to himself, but it is believed that he developed strong leadership, organizational and speaking skills through involvement in his church and school, United Christian College.
Wong was only 13 when he led his first protest – to protest plans to build a high-speed train connecting Hong Kong and mainland China. Two years later, he co-founded the student activist group Scholarism. In 2012, he inspired hundreds of thousands of protesters to block the introduction of national education into the Hong Kong curriculum, which he and his friends said amounted to brainwashing in Beijing.
But it was the Umbrella protests that propelled Wong onto the world stage. Images of the bespectacled 17-year-old shouting anti-Beijing slogans on the streets of Hong Kong made headlines and Wong’s face made the headlines of Time Magazine.
However, for several years after the Umbrella protests, which won no concessions from the government, the Hong Kong democratic movement took a back seat.
Emily Lau, veteran Democrat and former lawmaker, said the Umbrella protests were key to inspiring the younger generation of Democrats: “It failed to achieve the goal of universal suffrage and disappointed many people, including young people, but the desire for democracy had been stoked. . ”
Wong continued his campaign in earnest, along with his fellow Demosisto activists, calling on the world to pay attention to Beijing’s growing influence in the city.
In August 2017, he was jailed for six months for storming the government seat compound – the same act that sparked the Umbrella protests three years earlier.
However, it was not until last year, when Chief Executive Officer Carrie Lam attempted to introduce a controversial bill that would send suspects to mainland China for trial, that the Hong Kong Democratic movement s ‘is truly awake.
Wong was serving a five-week sentence in jail for contempt of court as anger over the extradition bill grew. By the time he was released on June 16, full-fledged protests had started. Police used tear gas on protesters, who responded by throwing bricks and gasoline bombs.
Although this time around the protest movement was declared “leaderless,” Wong continued to take part in rallies throughout 2019 and played a leading role in persuading US politicians to adopt the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which imposes sanctions on those responsible for suspected human rights violations.
To be of age, to keep the faith
“Sometimes he’s a little impatient to move on,” said Nathan Law, one of the founders of the Hong Kong democratic movement and former lawmaker, when asked about his friend and fellow activist Joshua Wong.
Both have spent the past seven years at the forefront of the struggle for greater democracy in the territory.
“He puts all his energy into activism. I always say he’s a person with no second life – all of his attention is on how to move the causes and agendas forward, ”Law, 27, told Al Jazeera from London where he claimed asylum. after the imposition of the National Security Law. .
Law says Wong’s unwavering determination – and his religious beliefs – will be key to getting him through the next difficult phase of his political career.
“Imprisonment is never easy, but I believe that with his determination and strong spirit he could get through it peacefully,” he said.