PROMINENT Hong Kong student protest leader Joshua Wong says he is mentally prepared to face jail for his role in the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests that shook the former British Colony, local media reported.
On Thursday, the 20-year-old student took to Twitter to urge his supporters to “stay strong” as the appeal court decides whether to send him and two other activists to prison.
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 😷 (@joshuawongcf) August 17, 2017
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 😷 (@joshuawongcf) August 16, 2017
A day earlier, Wong told a radio programme he would likely face a similar fate to 13 protesters, who were jailed for between eight and 13 months by the Court of Appeal on Tuesday.
Prosecutors had appealed against the group’s original community service sentence from a lower court in 2016, according to the South China Morning Post.
The group of jailed students had stormed Legislative Council complex while protesting against a development project in Hong Kong’s northeastern New Territories in 2014, the SCMP reported.
“We did not think the sentences for the [protest over the] development project in northeastern New Territories would be more than a year as sentencing for similar cases was usually a fine, community service or three weeks to three months’ jail,” Wong was quoted as saying.
“It was such a big change, so I can only remind myself to be prepared.”
Hong Kong, which last month celebrated 20 years under Communist Party rule, was gridlocked by nearly three months of the Umbrella Movement’s street protests in 2014 that failed to convince Beijing to allow full democracy in densely populated city.
The protest cemented the then 17-year-old Wong’s role at the forefront of the democracy movement, which has been on a roller coaster over the past year. The ride peaked with young candidates being elected on to the local legislature, before crashing down with a series of government-initiated lawsuits that ended with several being stripped of their seats.
Wong, now 20, who was sentenced to 80 hours of community service for illegal assembly connected to the 2014 protests before prosecutors sought a jail term, said the legal challenges had hit morale hard.
“It is the darkest era of the Hong Kong democratic movement.”
“Hong Kong is not Hong Kong anymore and now we’re suffering from a serious threat because I guess in the next few years there will be nearly a hundred youth activists who will be sent to prison.”
Hong Kong became a “special administrative region” of China in 1997, since when it has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees a range of freedoms not enjoyed on the Chinese mainland, including a direct vote for half of the 70-seat Legislative Council.
But activists say those freedoms have come under serious threat.
In recent months, dozens of protesters, mostly young people, have been jailed for their roles in various protests, including a violent demonstration that the government called a riot in early 2016.
Many activists have condemned the Department of Justice for its pursuit of jail terms for activists who have only recently become adults.
Wong is due to be sentenced on Thursday alongside former student leader Alex Chow and Nathan Law, 24, the youngest ever democratically elected lawmaker. He was expelled from office last month after a court ruled his oath of office, taken nearly a year ago, was invalid because he added words and adopted a tone of voice that “disrespected” China as the sovereign power.
They face a maximum three years in jail.
“The outlandish application seeking jail time is not about public order, but is instead a craven political move to keep the trio out of the Legislative Council, as well as deter future protests,” Human Rights Watch China director Sophie Richardson said in a statement.
Wong, who said he wanted to run for a seat in the Legislative Council and pursue a political career, could be banned from running for five years if he were to be jailed for more than three months.
Additional reporting by Reuters