Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong has been arrested on suspicion of taking part in an unauthorised assembly on October 5 last year and violating a mask ban, according to a post from his official Twitter account. It occurred while he was reporting to the Central Police Station at around 1 pm on Thursday.

Joshua Wong
Joshua Wong. File photo: Studio Incendo.

In a rare move, the Hong Kong government invoked a colonial-era emergency law on October 4, 2019, to ban the wearing of masks at demonstrations following months of citywide unrest. Thousands gathered in almost every district the next day to protest the measure, including Wong, 23.

Veteran activist Koo Sze-yiu of the League of Social Democrats has also been arrested on suspicion of participating in an unauthorised assembly that day, his party colleagues confirmed.

The Court of Appeal in April declared the government had the right to enact the controversial anti-mask law, partially overturning a ruling from the High Court last November that found the ban restricted fundamental rights. With the outbreak of the coronavirus, the government made mask-wearing mandatory in all public places, including on transport and outdoors.

Speaking outside the police facility at around 4.30 pm, Wong confirmed his arrest. He said officers showed him material from broadcasters RTHK, TVB, TTV News and New Tang Dynasty Television as evidence of his participation in the unauthorised assembly.

Koo Sze-yiu
Koo Sze-yiu. Photo: inmediahk.net.

“With the chilling effect generated by the Beijing authorities, it is the third case that I need to face already since last June [when] I left prison,” he said. “They can prosecute us, they can arrest us, they can lock us up in prison, but they can’t censor our commitment to [continuing] to fight for freedom.”

Sophie Richardson, China director at NGO Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that the day’s events were emblematic of the “downward spiral of human rights” in Hong Kong.

“The authorities are criminalising participation in protests using laws at odds with international standards, bringing dubious lawsuits to hobble pro-democracy voices, and failing to check excessive use of police force,” she said.

Amnesty International Hong Kong’s Programme Manager Lam Cho-ming also urged authorities to withdraw the mask ban, saying it had been used as a pretext for arresting political opponents: “The arrest of a prominent Hong Kong opposition figure for wearing a face mask at an ‘unauthorised’ protest – at a time when wearing a face mask is compulsory in the city – is yet another example of the government’s campaign to silence dissent by any means.”

“Today’s targeting of activists once again highlights the authorities’ escalating crackdown on critical voices, which is having a chilling effect on the freedom of peaceful assembly in Hong Kong.”

YouTube video

In a video message following his release, Wong said he had no regrets: “They wish to generate a chilling effect and try to silence the voice of dissidents before [October 1] National Day.”

“Let the voice of Hongkongers be heard… I realise there is no reason for us to give up.”

He is due to appear in Eastern Magistrates’ Court in Sai Wan Ho on September 30 at 2:30 pm, on the eve of China’s National Day.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.