Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 September 2019

Hong Kong's umbrella activist heads straight to street rallies after prison release

Joshua Wong was a leading figure in Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement demonstrations in 2014

Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong talks to the media after being released from prison, outside the Legislative Council building, in Hong Kong, China, 17 June 2019. EPA
Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong talks to the media after being released from prison, outside the Legislative Council building, in Hong Kong, China, 17 June 2019. EPA

Joshua Wong, a leading figure in Hong Kong’s 2014 Umbrella Movement demonstrations, was released from prison on Monday and headed straight to the streets to join thousands of protesters demanding the resignation of the island’s leader.

Mr Wong’s release from the Lai Chi Kok Correctional Facility came as student demonstrators and police gathered near the city’s government headquarters after a protest on Sunday that organisers said drew nearly two million people.

Mr Wong laid flowers at a makeshift memorial outside a downtown shopping mall where a protester fell to his death on Saturday while hanging a banner on a scaffolding.

“Hello world and hello freedom. GO HONG KONG!! he said on Twitter. “Withdraw the extradition bill. Carrie Lam step down. Drop all political persecutions.”

Mr Wong, 22, served a two-month sentence for contempt related to his involvement in the 2014 protests advocating a more democratic election process in the former British colony. His sentence was reduced from three months because he was only a teenager when he was arrested.

The recent protests were set off by an extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trials. Activists believe it undermines legal rights and judicial independence, and the legislation has since been suspended.

The mostly young protesters still gathered near the government headquarters began moving off the downtown streets on Monday morning after hours of haggling with police. They were streaming into an outdoor space near the city’s legislative chamber that had been closed off earlier. This enabled police to reopen roads that were blocked since Sunday’s protest.

The protest revived after Mr Wong rallied the crowd after his release from prison later on Monday.

"After the end of the Umbrella Movement we claimed we would be back. Finally five years later we did it," he said.

"It's lucky that Beijing and Carrie Lam transformed a whole generation of youngsters from normal citizens to dissidents. That's the price that Beijing must pay."

The demonstrations against the extradition bill are similar to those in 2014, when people camped for weeks in the streets to protest rules that prevented the direct election of the city's chief executive.

Despite the calls for Ms Lam to step down, she is unlikely to do so even if she wanted to, a senior city government official close to the chief executive told Reuters.

"It's not going to happen," said the official, who has been involved in meetings on the political crisis. "She's appointed by the central government, so for her to step down requires a very high level of considered discussion and deliberation at the mainland level."

The official said the proposed law was effectively dead in the water. "Suspending it actually means withdrawal ... it would be absolute political suicide to bring it back again."

But veteran opposition Democratic Party legislator James To said Ms Lam had go.

"She has missed golden opportunities to show repentance and recover and now has lost all credibility to govern," he said.

Updated: June 17, 2019 04:44 PM

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