Hong Kong — Three young Hong Kong dissidents were remanded into custody on Monday after pleading guilty to inciting a rally during last year's pro-democracy protests, deepening the crackdown against Beijing's critics. Hong Kong was convulsed by seven straight months of huge and often violent pro-democracy rallies last year in which millions took to the streets.
has refused demands for free elections in Hong Kong and authorities have with criminal cases and a sweeping new national security law.
Prominent activist Joshua Wong, 24, was prosecuted on Monday alongside fellow activists Ivan Lam and Agnes Chow over a protest that took place last summer outside the city police headquarters.
"We will continue to fight for freedom, and now is not the time for us to kowtow to Beijing and surrender," Wong told reporters on his way to court.
Once inside Wong pleaded guilty to inciting and organizing an illegal assembly. Lam pleaded guilty to incitement while Chow, 23, admitted inciting and joining the protest.
All three were remanded into custody pending sentencing on December 2, meaning a jail term is all but guaranteed. The maximum sentence a magistrate's court can hand down is three years.
"Everyone hang in there. I know it's tougher for you to remain out there," Wong shouted inside court.
Small groups of supporters surrounded their prison van as they were driven away shouting "Add oil!" and "No rioters, only tyranny!"
Add oil is a popular phrase of encouragement in Cantonese, and authorities dismissed both peaceful and violent protesters alike last year as rioters.
Young pro-democracy veterans
Despite his youth, Wong has already spent time in prison for leading democracy protests and told reporters that he was ready to return.
"Emotionally I am reluctant in every way to be jailed but rationally I have absolutely no space to complain in comparison with many others," he said outside court, in a reference to the hundreds of protest-linked prosecutions already concluded.
Chow appeared less self-assured.
"If sentenced, this will be my first time in prison," she wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday. "While I say I have mentally prepared for this, I am still a bit scared."
Wong became an activist when he was in his early teens, organizing successful rallies in 2012 against plans to make Hong Kong's education system more "patriotic" and similar to the mainland.
In 2014 he and Chow helped inspire and lead the "Umbrella Movement" — a 79-day peaceful occupation of three busy intersections by a largely student-led campaign calling for universal suffrage.
Wong was jailed for his involvement in those protests, alongside most of that movement's main leaders.
He was still in jail when last year's much larger democracy protests kicked off, though he made appearances at numerous rallies after his release.
The protests, however, were deliberately leaderless, mostly organized via social media and encrypted chat forums.
They were also much more violent. Riot police unleashed thousands of rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets and were frequently filmed using batons to.
Their headquarters was besieged on multiple occasions with crowds hurling eggs and daubing its walls with graffiti. Small groups of hardline activists resorted to rocks, petrol bombs and even bows and arrows.
More than 10,000 people were arrested and most of the Hong Kong's leading activists and opposition figures now face prosecution.
The demonstrations petered out at the start of the year thanks to fatigue, mass arrests and the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic.
An anti-virus ban on more than four people gathering in public has remained in place for most of this year.
Beijing has also imposed a broad new security law that ramps-up its direct control over the semi-autonomous city and outlaws certain political views.
Demosisto, the pro-democracy party that Wong, Lam and Chow were in, disbanded when the security law came in because their desire for greater self-determination was now illegal.
Pro-democracy lawmakers have alsoand local legislature elections delayed for a year.
Authorities say they have returned much needed stability to the global trade hub, but the U.S. and other countries have imposed new sanctions on Chinese officials over the law, which they argue effectively removes Hong Kong's semi-autonomy.
Critics insist that opposition to Beijing's rule remains widespread, despite the lack of street protests.