“One of the immutable laws of history is that an idea cannot be defeated by imprisoning its defenders.” So it began Joshua Wong his manifesto ‘We are the revolution’ (Roca Editorial, 2020), an axiom that the young Hong Kong activist must continue to test in his own flesh after a court added this Thursday to his pending accounts another 10 months in jail. The reason is their participation in an “illegal assembly”, referring to the last edition of the vigil in memory of the Tiananmen massacre, held on June 4 last year.
That was the first time that the authorities of the territory prohibited the event, a measure to which they argued the risk to public health due to the pandemic, the same pretext that led to postpone an election to the local Executive in which the opposition it seemed on its way to unprecedented success. Still, tens of thousands of people defied the order by congregating in Victoria Park with candles, according to tradition.
Any mention of what happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989 is off limits in mainland Chinal. Not so in the former British colony, thanks to a system of rights and freedoms now threatened by the growing erosion of democracy. Beijing last year approved a new National Security Law for Hong Kong, which contemplates penalties of up to life imprisonment for any act considered “subversion, secession, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces.” This legal framework, which violates the international agreements regarding the return of sovereignty of 1997, has irremediably curtailed the freedom of expression and political action of opponents.
This legislation lays the foundation for the multiple accusations that, at 24 years old, Wong faces. By pleading guilty, he has managed to reduce yesterday’s sentence with up to five years from 15 to 10 months. Three other activists, Tiffany Yuen, Jannelle Leung and Lester Shum, also in their twenties, have also received between four and six months. About twenty more people face similar charges, including tycoon Jimmy Lai, and will be tried on June 11. “The right of assembly is not unlimited,” the judge ruled in his sentence.
A political icon
Wong is one of the most famous political figures in Hong Kong since in 2011, at just 15 years old, he headed the student opposition movement to educational reform. He also led the 2014 Umbrella Revolution. Two years later, he co-founded the Demosisto party, which he identified as “a platform for self-determination” for 2047, the date when the former colony should be fully integrated into the continent.
In 2019 he already spent three months in jail for offenses related to mobilizations. On June 17, 2019, he was released, a day after the massive demonstration in rejection of the extradition law -which would link the Hong Kong penal system to the mainland-, which took two million people to the streets in a territory. Just over seven years old, it was the starting signal for the greatest social crisis in Hong Kong’s modern history, in which Wong once again played a leading role.
Last December, Wong was sentenced 13 months and a half in jail for a concentration that led to the siege of a police station during those protests. Both he and Yuen and Shum have another trial pending on charges under the National Security Law and punishable by up to life imprisonment. Meanwhile, everything points to the vigil not being able to be held this year either. Questioned in this regard, the head of the local Executive, Carrie Lam, said last week that “we must respect the Communist Party.” Joshua Wong, be that as it may, will then continue to defend his ideas behind bars.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism