International rights groups are criticizing the Chinese Communist Party, after three Hong Kong pro-democracy activists were remanded in custody following a court appearance on Nov. 23.
Prominent activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, and Ivan Lam appeared at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on Monday, and pleaded guilty to charges relating to their participation in a mass protest outside of the city’s police headquarters on June 21 last year. The three will be sentenced on Dec. 2.
“Perhaps the authorities wish me to stay in prison. But I am persuaded that, neither prison bars, nor election ban, nor any other arbitrary powers would stop us from activism,” Wong, an activist who shot to prominence during the 2014 pro-democracy protests dubbed the Umbrella Movement, told local reporters before his court session.
“We will continue to fight for freedom. Now is not the time for us [to] kowtow to Beijing and surrender,” he added.
Hong Kong’s freedoms and basic rights have deteriorated rapidly since Beijing imposed a national security law on the Chinese-ruled city on June 30, which punishes vaguely-defined crimes such as secession and subversion of the one-party communist state. Since the law went into effect, four pro-democracy lawmakers have been disqualified, journalists have been arrested, and police have raided the newsroom of a major local newspaper.
The three made their initial court appearance back in July, when Chow pleaded guilty to participating in an unauthorized assembly and inciting others to take part in an unlawful assembly on June 21, 2019. Wong and Lam, however, pleaded not guilty.
Last June, thousands of protesters besieged the police headquarters in Wan Chai, blocking nearby roads and entrances into the building. They gathered in opposition to an extradition bill that would have allowed people in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China for trial, which is notorious for the absence of rule of law.
That day, Wong spoke to the protesters on the steps of the police headquarters, led protesters in chants, and demanded to speak with then-city police commissioner Stephen Ho.
The extradition bill has since been scrapped, but at the time, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam had only announced that discussions of the bill would be suspended at the local legislature.
Ahead of Monday’s trial, Wong took to his Twitter account, saying that he and Lam changed their minds, and would plead guilty, after consulting their lawyers and reviewing all evidence presented by prosecutors.
On Monday, Wong pleaded guilty to charges of organizing and inciting an unauthorized assembly. Lam pleaded guilty to the incitement charge.
Dozens of supporters showed up outside the courthouse to support the three activists, shouting slogans such as “Release Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, Ivan Lam!” and “Five Demands, Not One Less,” in reference to demands for greater democratic freedoms in the city.
Overseas lawmakers and rights groups denounced the treatment of the three pro-democracy proponents.
U.S. Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.) took to his Twitter account to applaud the bravery of the trio.
“Their decision to plead guilty to an unjust law shows their determination to stand firm in the fight for freedom and human rights, instead of cowering in fear to the threats of the Chinese Communist Party,” Scott wrote.
Washington-based nonprofit HKDC, in a statement Monday, demanded the immediate release of the activists and implored the U.S. government to review all recent actions by the Hong Kong authorities, to “determine if their actions violate US-Hong Kong policy and thus require sanctioning under US law.”
“Make no mistake, when they pled guilty in court today, it was not a judgment on them, but rather a judgment against a poisoned Hong Kong judiciary system no longer independent or capable of rendering justice,” HKDC stated.
Benedict Rogers, chief executive of British nonprofit Hong Kong Watch, condemned the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over its latest move to “punish free expression and silence dissent.”
“The detention of Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, and Ivan Lam is a further example of the dismantling of Hong Kong’s autonomy, freedoms, and democracy by Beijing in direct contravention to its international obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law,” Rogers said according to his statement.
China and the United Kingdom signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984, which paved the way for Hong Kong’s handover back to China in 1997.
Under the treaty, the CCP promised to guarantee people in Hong Kong basic freedoms not granted to mainland Chinese under the regime’s rule for at least 50 years after 1997 through the model known as “one country, two systems.”
Wong sent out a series of tweets while in custody in the late afternoon, urging people to pay more attention to the 12 Hongkongers currently being detained in China instead of focusing on his plight.
The 12 detainees were arrested at sea by the Chinese coastguard on Aug. 23 after they set out from Hong Kong in a boat, allegedly trying to escape to Taiwan to claim political asylum.
So far, lawyers appointed by the families of the detainees have been denied access to their clients.
On Saturday, supporters and family members of the 12 Hongkongers staged a small protest on a small hill at Hong Kong’s outlying island of Kat O, which is located across the harbor from the Chinese city of Shenzhen, where the 12 are being held.
They set off balloons carrying names and messages for their detained relatives.