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Leading Hong Kong activist pleads guilty at trial


image copyrightReuters

image captionAgnes Chow (left), Ivan Lam and Joshua Wong all pleaded guilty

Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong and two fellow campaigners are facing the prospect of prison after pleading guilty to unlawful assembly during last year’s mass protests.

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

Mr Wong said he expected to go to jail, possibly facing five years behind bars.

However, as the alleged offences took place before China enacted a harsh national security law in June, they avoided a potential life sentence.

The prominent activist revealed he decided to change his plea after talking to his lawyer.

“We three have decided to plead guilty to all charges,” Mr Wong told reporters gathered at the court on Monday. “It will not be surprising if I am sent to immediate detention today.”

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

The three were remanded in custody until 2 December, when they will be sentenced.

What do these charges relate to?

During the 2019 protests, Hong Kong’s police headquarters several times became the target of protesters throwing eggs and spraying graffiti.

Mr Wong, Mr Lam and Ms Chow have been charged with leading, inciting and joining one of those protests.

image copyrightReuters

image captionHong Kong police repeatedly clashed with protesters in 2019

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

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

Who are the activists?

Joshua Wong has been involved in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement for years and has served several shorter prison sentences as a result.

The now 24-year-old first rose to prominence as a student leader during the 2014 “Umbrella Movement”, and also supported the new wave of protests that rocked the territory in 2019.

Last year’s protests repeatedly led to violent clashes between demonstrators and police.

Beijing has since introduced a sweeping new security law for Hong Kong with harsh punishment for acts of secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces.

In response, Mr Wong disbanded his pro-democracy group Demosisto. Both Mr Lam and Ms Chow are also a former Demosisto members.

image copyrightEPA

image captionJoshua Wong and Agnes Chow during a 2019 protest

Ms Chow was already arrested under the new security law in August this year, but released on bail.

Ahead of Monday’s court appearance, she wrote on Facebook that although “mentally prepared”, she still felt scared ahead of a possible prison term but would “try my best to face it bravely”.

“If I am sentenced to prison this time, it will be the first time in my life that I have been in jail,” she wrote. “However, compared to many friends, I have suffered very little.”

Why were there protests in Hong Kong?

A former British colony, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 but under the so-called “one country, two systems” principle.

It was supposed to guarantee certain freedoms for the territory – including freedom of assembly and speech, an independent judiciary and some democratic rights – which mainland China does not have.

The activists fear that Beijing’s growing influence in Hong Kong would mean the gradual erosion of those rights and freedoms.

Most observers say that this year’s national security law has confirmed those fears, making it easier to severely punish protesters.

media captionThe history behind Hong Kong’s identity crisis and protests – first broadcast November 2019

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