Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong asks for a lesser sentence in landmark security case

HONG KONG (AP) — Prominent activist Joshua Wong asked for a lesser sentence in court Friday after he earlier pleaded guilty in Hong Kong’s biggest national security case.

Wong was one of 47 activists charged in 2021 under a Beijing-imposed national security law with conspiracy to commit subversion for their involvement in an unofficial primary. The activists were accused of attempting to paralyze Hong Kong’s government and topple the city’s leader by aiming to win a legislative majority and using it to block city budgets indiscriminately.

Wong and 44 others admitted their liability or were convicted by the court. They could be sentenced to life in prison, though those who pleaded guilty have a better chance of receiving shorter sentences. Their mass prosecution dealt a severe blow to the city’s once-thriving pro-democracy movement.

Wong waved at the public gallery after he walked into the courtroom. Former Democratic Party chair Wu Chi-wai, former pro-democracy lawmaker Jeremy Tam and activist Tam Tak-chi were among the five other activists who also appeared in court.

Wong’s lawyer Marco Li said his client should be considered an “active participant” because he neither organized nor assisted in the unofficial primary. The security law calls for active participants to face a jail term of between three to 10 years.

Li said Wong hoped that he could part with his past history and would be able to reform himself after serving his sentence. He suggested the judges offer his client a one-third reduction of sentence given his guilty plea.

Wong first became a household name in Hong Kong as a teenager in 2012 for leading protests against the implementation of national education in the city’s schools.

In 2014, he rose to fame as one of the student leaders in the city’s Occupy Movement, during which demonstrators occupied streets for 79 days and brought traffic in some areas to a standstill, demanding direct elections for Hong Kong’s leader.

In the 2019 leaderless movement, Wong helped drum up overseas support for the protests. His activism resulted in Beijing calling him as an advocate of Hong Kong independence who had “begged for interference” from foreign forces.

When the security law was enacted on June 30, 2020, “Demosisto,” a political party he co-founded, was disbanded.

The mitigation hearings for the 45 convicted defendants are expected to continue until early August and sentencing will come at a later date.

The national security law authorizes a range of sentences depending on the seriousness of the offense and the defendant’s role in it, going from under three years for the least serious to 10 years to life in prison for people convicted of “grave” offenses.

Critics said the case illustrated how the security law is being used against the city’s democracy activists. But both the Hong Kong and Beijing governments maintain that it restored stability following the 2019 protests.

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