Joshua Wong could face even longer prison sentences

Following the jailing of Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam, pro-democracy activist and former journalist Gwyneth Ho said Wednesday’s sentence is unlikely going to be the only sentence that Wong will face in the near future, as he is facing other charges. She also warns that democratic district councilors could be the next target for the government’s crackdown.

Question: You were in the court yesterday while the sentences were announced. Could you tell us what it was like inside the court?

Gwyneth Ho: Because of the pandemic, the court was only half open. A lot of people gathered outside the courtroom. There were around 100 police outside the court, trying to disperse the crowd. The moment the sentence was announced, there was a deep sense of anguish.

Some people began to chant slogans and accused the court of issuing wrong sentences. Nobody expected such a long sentence. The charge that the three of them were facing, which is inciting an unauthorized assembly, was a light offense in cases before 2019. It would usually result in fines of thousands of dollars of weeks in jail.

Now we are talking about more than a year of jail sentence. This is a trend that the court is increasing prison sentences for political protesters. They will use whatever charges they can find against the protesters.

DW: You worked closely with Joshua Wong during the pro-democracy camp’s legislative council election primary earlier this year. How does the result of Wednesday’s sentence mean to you?

Gwyneth Ho: Emotionally, it’s a heavy toll for me, as Joshua was given more than a year of jail sentence. Even for Agnes, who had a clear record, the court refused to grant her bail without offering any reason.

One of the major things that we are worried about is we don’t know what treatment they are facing in the prison. We have heard more and more about unfair treatment or torture experienced by political prisoners held in detention. Joshua was held in solitary confinement even before the sentence was announced.

There are no institutional checks and balances or guarantees about the fundamental rights of inmates. I’m personally very worried about the treatment that they will receive in prison, especially since they are prominent figures internationally. I think that adds more reasons for them to be treated improperly.

From the public’s perspective, people in the pro-democracy camp are more or less prepared for what’s to come. Even though the sentences were out of our expectation, it’s not like the persecution itself wasn’t expected. Even when I was standing outside the court as dozens of police tried to scare people away, we still see a crowd of hundreds trying to show their support for Joshua and Agnes.

These are not famous people. They are just members of the public and they are still fearless despite the pandemic-related bans. I think the society as a whole, no matter whether it is democratic activists, politicians or members of the public, there is still a very substantial and strong spirit which believes that the protest will carry on.

DW: Following the implementation of the National Security Law, we saw that all the channels that the pro-democracy camp used to rely on no longer exists. With the jailing of Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam, how do you think the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong can go from here, with so many limitations in place to block the path forward for the movement?

Gwyneth Ho: I don’t have a comprehensive answer for that right now, but what I see is that people are still trying. They are still pushing boundaries until they are forbidden yet again. For example, we lost the legislative council as a platform and we lost the chance to vote in elections. We still see a lot of district councilors try to push back authoritarian controls at the community level.

We expect that to be the next wave of persecution. The more than 300 pro-democracy district councilors who won in the election last November are now being threatened to be disqualified. We see them still try to make the best of their remaining days to voice their protest. As for myself and many other democratic activists, we are trying to explore many other different ways of continuing the protest.

I think it’s normal under authoritarian rules that you will see channels and paths being closed one by one, and you just have to use creativity to deal with it. For example, the yellow economic circle is still up and coming. People are still experimenting with different ways to build a larger community of yellow shops.

We haven’t given up the international front either. Nathan Law and other Hong Kongers abroad are still actively trying to gain the world’s attention about the situation in Hong Kong. Resistance is still carrying on despite all the pressure and attempt of trying to silence us. We are the only dissenting noise and we are not going to let China silence us. We will continue to speak out.

DW: The world was paying close attention to the sentencing of Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam. What do you think they should learn from Wednesday’s sentences?

Gwyneth Ho: I think they should know that this won’t be the only sentences for Joshua in the foreseeable future. He is also shouldering other offenses from other cases. It’s very possible during the 13.5 months that he is serving the sentence, he will be brought back to court for another trial that will prolong his sentence.

We are not just talking about a one-year jail sentence. We are fearful that we may have to see Joshua in jail for the years to come. Hong Kong is not a surprise for protest creativity and Hong Kong is not a short term issue. It will become a long term problem and what we hope is no matter how the international geopolitical situation changes, the world needs to be reminded that there is a city of 7 million people currently under the persecution of an authoritarian communist China.

I think the world is starting to notice that the authoritarian values that China would like to export to the world and Hong Kong people are paying the blood and tears to warn the international community. This is not the one-day headline. Sufferings are real in Hong Kong and Joshua, Agnes and Ivan are not the only political prisoners.

More than 2000 people including myself are currently waiting for trials and sentencing. A lot of people have already been imprisoned. It will be an ongoing problem and we need ongoing international support.

This interview was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.

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William Yang

William Yang is a journalist based in Taiwan, where he writes about politics, society, and human rights issues in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.