On Wednesday, the 21-year-old Hong Kong democracy activist and civil society leader Joshua Wong was sentenced to another three months in prison for his participation in the Umbrella Revolution. Raphael Wong was similarly sentenced to four months.
Joshua Wong is the secretary-general of the democratic self-determination movement Demosistō. His activism began in 2011 when he helped convene a student group called Scholarism to protest the growing influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over Hong Kong’s educational curricula. Raphael Wong is the vice-chairman of the League of Social Democrats.
Later, the two were key leaders in the 2014 civil disobedience campaign against Beijing’s increasingly overbearing influence over Hong Kong—which came to be known as the “Umbrella Movement” or “Umbrella Revolution” after the implements protestors used to block pepper spray. For several months, protestors resisted violent harassment from state security forces and the infamous mafia-like “Triad” gangs who acted as their informal allies.
Joshua Wong and other activists, including Nathan Law and Alex Chow, were subsequently arrested for their roles in the Umbrella Revolution. Initially, their sentences were simply probative, but intervention by the government lead to harsher punishment. In August 2016, the three were imprisoned.
The young activists were later released on bail, but the sentence handed down on Wednesday—three months in jail for “obstructing the clearance” of an encampment of protesters in 2014—is just the latest move in Beijing’s campaign to crush Hong Kong’s autonomy and stifle the freedoms of expression and conscience it still retains.
“Joshua Wong is not a petty criminal, but a hero to the people of Hong Kong and lovers of freedom worldwide. We condemn the obviously political persecution of this courageous and passionate young activist for liberty,” said VOC Executive Director Marion Smith.
For his part, CCP boss Xi Jinping has made it clear that the “one country, two systems” policy which has been the de jure principle governing China’s administrative relationship with Hong Kong since the July 1997 handover from Great Britain will no longer apply.
In a speech given on the twentieth anniversary of the transfer ceremony last July, Xi warned that any attempt by the international community to interfere with “Chinese sovereignty” (in other words, to protest human rights abuses by Beijing or advocate for greater freedom in Hong Kong) was “impermissible.” To underscore his point, the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning and other warships loomed ominously in nearby Stonecutters Bay.
“When Xi Jinping gave his July speech in Hong Kong in the shadow of an aircraft carrier, he made clear that the communist regime in Beijing no longer cared about the ‘one country, two systems’ principle.” Smith added. “The latest sentence against Wong and his fellow activists only highlights Xi’s determination to yoke Hong Kong with the same oppressive regime under which all of China now suffers.”
Nor was Xi bluffing. Last October, Benedict Rogers, a UK human rights activist and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party’s human rights commission, was unceremoniously ejected from Hong Kong by police. Rogers—a Hong Kong resident himself from 1997 to 2002—had allegedly been planning to visit friends who were members of the democratic opposition.
“It is absolutely bizarre,” Rogers told The Guardian of his expulsion. “I feel shocked. I had received a warning that this might happen so I was mentally prepared for it but was hoping it wouldn’t happen. I feel very shocked. I feel it is yet another example of, if not the death, then the death throes of ‘one country, two systems.’”
This week, the independent British NGO Hong Kong Watch released a report in which longtime MP and diplomat Lord Paddy Ashdown raised “serious concerns” about the rule of law, democracy, and the rights of overseas passport holders. “Will China enhance their soft-power if they continue to erode away Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms, thereby breaching an international treaty?” Lord Ashdown asked. “What happens next in Hong Kong will be judged by a watching world, for it will tell us whether the rise of Xi Jinping leads to a new more modern China, or back to an old more repressive one.”
International activists are not the only ones facing the consequences of Beijing’s crackdown. In December, a number of opposition lawmakers were forcibly ejected from Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) by security guards after protesting a punitive rules change that curtailed legislators’ privilege to filibuster—a move clearly intended to discriminate against the pro-self-determination minority.
Nevertheless, though the situation seems grim, opposition activists and human rights groups inside and outside Hong Kong have not yet given up hope.
As he was being taken to jail, Raphael Wong shouted, “Our determination to fight for democracy will not change!”