Following a month of high-profile arrests in Hong Kong, young pro-democracy figures Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, and Ivan Lam were sentenced to prison on December 2 over a protest during last year’s anti-government demonstrations.
After pleading guilty last week to charges of unauthorized assembly, Wong received a sentence of 13 and a half months in prison, while Chow and Lam received 10 months and seven months, respectively. Former leaders of the disbanded political group Demosisto, they had faced up to three years in prison for organizing and inciting a protest in June 2019, when thousands blockaded the police headquarters calling for the release of arrested protesters and the scrapping of an extradition bill.
“It’s not the end of the fight. Ahead of us is another challenging battleground,” said Wong, in a message relayed to his lawyers upon his sentencing. “We’re now joining the battle in prison along with many brave protestors, less visible yet essential in the fight for democracy and freedom for Hong Kong.”
The trio are only in their early to mid-20s. Yet they’re already veteran activists in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, which has been subject to escalating crackdowns since Beijing imposed a national security law over the city in June. In November, 15 pro-democracy legislators resigned from the legislature – leaving it without an opposition – after four lawmakers were expelled on the grounds of national security. That month, three ex-lawmakers were arrested for legislature protests, and eight legislators were arrested for prior attempts to disrupt debates on pro-Beijing bills.
Wong, 24, rose to global prominence as the poster boy for Hong Kong democracy during the city’s Umbrella Revolution in 2014, when he rallied students in massive protests calling for universal suffrage. Chow, 23, began her activist career in 2012, when she campaigned alongside Wong and Lam against a national education curriculum that critics claimed was akin to nationalist brainwashing. Fluent in Japanese, she has since amassed a huge following in Japan, and was recently hailed as the “real Mulan” as well as the “goddess of democracy” by supporters.
Formerly chairman of Demosisto, Lam, 26, co-founded the activist group Scholarism in 2011 with Wong, fighting for education reform. He was jailed for storming the Legislative Council in a 2014 protest against a controversial development project in the New Territories.
The sentencing of Wong, Chow and Lam does not come as a surprise for many of the city’s mostly young protesters. Since last year, there have been more than 10,000 arrests and 2,000 prosecutions related to the protests. Between last June and May of this year, approximately 1,700 of those arrested were under 18 years old, including 1,602 secondary school pupils and eight primary school students, the South China Morning Post reports.
Grace (not her real name), a 24-year-old protester who took part in the same demonstration last year near the police headquarters, feels a mixture of sadness and resignation over the trio’s imprisonment. “Joshua arrived at the headquarters, tried to cheer everyone up. He didn’t really lead,” she said. “Everybody knew (their imprisonment) would happen someday – it’s already a bit delayed.”
The three were high-profile figures in the anti-extradition bill movement last year, yet the demonstrations were considered mostly to be leaderless. Prior to his sentencing, Wong was also held in solitary confinement after an X-ray scan reportedly revealed “foreign objects” in his stomach, according to a post on his Facebook page.
In recent months, many Hong Kongers have fled overseas, with a growing number seeking asylum in the U.K., Taiwan, Australia, Canada, and other countries. The sentencing marks yet another blow against the city’s young activists and will likely expedite the current exodus, says Grace, who has helped a number of protesters move abroad this year.
“Not everyone likes Joshua, Agnes and Ivan. For me, they have good spirit. Do they have everything we want? No. So they are like us,” Grace said. “They have more courage, so they step up. They tell us that they can do it… so we can do it as well.”