A Hong Kong newsmaker is chosen each month by HKFP. Click here to view previous nominees. Raphael Wong, jailed social activist and vice-chairperson of the League of Social Democrats, is selected as our Person of the Month for August 2017.
League of Social Democrats’ (LSD) Vice-chairman Raphael Wong was jailed on August 15 along with 12 other land rights activists over their participation in a protest against a controversial development plan in the northeast New Territories.
The demonstration was in response to Finance Committee chair Ng Leung-sing’s attempts to end a filibuster by the pro-democracy camp over the proposal, which would entail the repossession of agricultural land for residential and town development, and the eviction of farmers from their properties.
Last February, the court heard that demonstrators had broken apart security barriers and used bamboo sticks to force open glass doors at the Legislative Council Complex on June 13, 2014. Convicted of unlawful assembly, the protesters were each sentenced to serve between 80 and 150 hours of community service.
In August, the Department of Justice successfully appealed the sentences. A dozen of the defendants were given 13 months in jail, and the last defendant – who had pleaded guilty – was given an eight-month jail term. The court said it took into account the level of violence involved, the consequences of the incident and attitudes of the defendants. Judge Wally Yeung said that the court did not take pleasure in jailing young people with aspirations, but that the sentencing should have a deterrent effect and uphold the public interest, In-media reported.
Wong joined the LSD in 2008, and became the party’s vice-chairperson in February 2014. He had previously participated in numerous direct action campaigns and social movements, and made an unsuccessful bid for the Lek Yuen District Council seat in the 2011 election. However, it was his involvement in the June protest against the northeast New Territories development plan that brought him into the public eye.
Video footage of the protest shows Wong attempting to stop activists from using metal barricades to break open the glass entrance to the legislature. In the midst of loud criticism and shouts from the crowd, Wong said: “This is not how the villagers think. Did you ask the villagers?” He was subsequently given the nickname “village leader.”
In response to criticism that he had stood on the side of the police, Wong issued a statement saying that his main concern on the night had been protesters’ safety.
“I’m not sure if the protesters thought through every consequence of their action. For example, were they prepared to be immediately arrested after they used the metal barricade to break through the glass door? Were they prepared to face the multiple convictions that would result from the criminal act? Were they prepared to go to prison?” said Wong.
“I was not their leader – they could have ignored me and gone ahead with the action, or maybe the other people who were criticising me could have taken up the barricade and stepped forward. In the end, I did lift my hand to allow them to go ahead. But the group of protesters stopped planning to use the barricades to crash the gate – today, I still hope they don’t regret not using metal barricades to storm the legislature.”
Later that year, Wong participated in the Umbrella Movement as one of its core leaders. He was arrested during the police clearance of the Mong Kok camp on November 26, alongside activist Joshua Wong, Lester Shum of the Federation of Students and Jason Szeto from Chinese University’s Student Union.
Wong stood in the 2016 Legislative Council elections for a New Territories West geographical constituency seat. However, he was ultimately unsuccessful, gaining only 4.73 per cent of the vote.
”Full list of currently imprisoned activists from the 2014 northeast New Territories protests”
- Raphael Wong
- Leung Hiu-yeung
- Lau Kwok-leung
- Leung Wing-lai
- Ivan Lam
- David Chu
- Willis Ho
- Chow Koot-yin
- Yim Man-wa
- Chiu Hin-chung
- Kwok Yiu-cheung
- Wong Kan-yuen
- Chan Pak-shan
As he was taken away from court in August, Wong shouted: “The land belongs to the people! Return democratic land planning! Civil resistance, [we have] no fear!”
Earlier this year, the North District Council passed a non-binding motion asking the government to suspend the Northeast New Territories development project. Around 1,000 households in northern Fanling, Kwu Tung and Ta Kwu Ling are estimated to be affected by the development plan.