Hong Kong pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Ivan Lam and Agnes Chow have been remanded in custody on unauthorised assembly charges linked to the siege of the police headquarters in Wan Chai last June. The trio will face sentencing next Wednesday.

At the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Monday, Wong admitted to inciting and organising an unauthorised assembly outside the police base on Arsenal Street on June 21, 2019. He faced another charge of knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly, but the prosecution said they would offer no evidence against him for that offence.

Joshua Wong Ivan Lam Agnes Chow
Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Lam, on the other hand, admitted guilt to the incitement charge. The pair had previously pleaded not guilty, but Wong announced on Sunday that they decided to change their pleas after consulting their lawyers and reviewing all evidence.

The third defendant – Agnes Chow – pleaded guilty in July to violating the Public Order Ordinance by inciting others to take part and knowingly participate in an unauthorised assembly outside the headquarters of the police force.

The trio were leading members of the now-disbanded political group Demosisto.

Activism to continue

Wong told reporters before the hearing that he decided to plead guilty to all charges and said “it would not be surprising” if immediate detention followed.

"June 21, 2019" Police headquarters protest
Protesters outside police headquarters in Wan Chai on June 21, 2019. Photo: Studio Incendo.

“I pleaded guilty to offences including organising and taking part in an unauthorised assembly, to which the maximum penalty is five years,” the 24-year-old said. “Perhaps the authorities wish me to stay in prison one term after another. But I am persuaded that, neither prison bars, nor election ban, nor any other arbitrary powers would stop us from activism.”

On June 21 last year, thousands of protesters surrounded the police headquarters amid anger over the police use of force a week earlier. On June 12, officers deployed rubber bullets, bean bags rounds and tear gas to clear demonstrators gathered in opposition to a now-axed extradition bill.

The crowds outside the Wan Chai police building chanted slogans such as “release the martyrs” and “shame on police thugs,” while others vandalised the exterior of the building by throwing eggs and scrawling graffiti. Protesters also blocked different entrances and exits, trapping officers and other police staff in the base for hours.

During Monday’s hearing, the prosecution accused the trio of using their speech and actions to “suggest, encourage and urge” protesters to surround the police headquarters.

Video evidence showed Wong and Lam telling demonstrators through microphones to pressure the then-police chief Stephen Lo to meet them at the headquarters and respond to their demands, including withdrawing the characterisation of the June 12 protest as a “riot.”

In mitigation, Wong and Chow’s lawyer said the two activists were young when they committed the offences, and asked the court to consider their degree of involvement, saying they had not urged protesters to engage in violent acts such as throwing eggs or vandalising the police building.

Joshua Wong Ivan Lam Agnes Chow
Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch said on Twitter that the charges should be dropped: “The trio [have] done nothing wrong – the Hong Kong govt should immediately drop these charges involving Hong Kong’s Public Order Ordinance, which places excessive restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”

A high-profile activist, Wong has been behind bars before over his role in the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement.

Demosisto was disbanded on June 30, hours before Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong. The sweeping legislation outlaws secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts – broadly defined to include disruption to public transport and other infrastructure.

The trio face up to three years in prison following conviction.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.