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After pleading guilty, Hong Kong activist seeks lesser sentence

Robert Besser
10 Jul 2024

HONG KONG: Prominent activist Joshua Wong sought a lesser sentence in court on July 5 after pleading guilty in Hong Kong's largest national security case.

Charged alongside 46 others in 2021 under a Beijing-imposed national security law, Wong faced accusations of conspiracy to commit subversion for participating in an unofficial primary election.

The activists aimed to win a legislative majority to paralyze the government and topple the city's leader by indiscriminately blocking city budgets.

Wong, along with 44 others, admitted their liability or were convicted, potentially facing life imprisonment. However, those who pleaded guilty, including Wong, have a better chance of receiving shorter sentences. Their prosecution severely impacted Hong Kong's once-thriving pro-democracy movement.

Entering the courtroom, Wong waved at the public gallery. Among the other activists present were former Democratic Party chair Wu Chi-wai, former lawmaker Jeremy Tam, and activist Tam Tak-chi. Wong's lawyer, Marco Li, argued that Wong should be considered an "active participant" as he neither organized nor assisted in the unofficial primary.

Under the security law, active participants face a jail term of three to 10 years. Li suggested a one-third reduction in Wong's sentence due to his guilty plea, emphasizing Wong's hope for reform and a break from his past.

Wong gained prominence in 2012 as a teenager leading protests against national education in Hong Kong schools. In 2014, he became a notable figure in the Occupy Movement, which saw demonstrators occupy streets for 79 days, demanding direct elections for Hong Kong's leader.

During the 2019 protests, Wong garnered international support for the movement, which led Beijing to label him an advocate of Hong Kong independence who solicited foreign interference. Following the enactment of the national security law on June 30, 2020, Demosisto, a political party co-founded by Wong, disbanded.

The mitigation hearings for the 45 convicted defendants are expected to continue until early August, with sentencing to follow. The national security law authorizes a range of sentences depending on the offense's severity and the defendant's role, from under three years for minor offenses to 10 years to life for "grave" offenses.

Critics argue that the case demonstrates the law's use against democracy activists, while the Hong Kong and Beijing governments claim it has restored stability following the 2019 protests.

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