19-year-old Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong, three others face trial for actions at protest

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A teenage activist who became the face of the so-called umbrella protests in Hong Kong was tried Friday along with three others for their roles in a protest against Beijing’s rule in this Chinese territory of more than 7 million people.

Joshua Wong, 19, and Nathan Law, 22, two of the leaders of the pro-democracy protests in 2014, were accused of obstructing police officers during a demonstration against a controversial document issued by Chinese Communist authorities asserting that Beijing has “complete jurisdiction” over Hong Kong. Albert Chan and Raphael Wong were also charged.

Known as the “white paper,” the document, the student leaders and others argued, violated the “one country, two systems” framework under which the former British colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.


A judge will decide their fate late this month. If convicted, each faces up to two years in prison.

Wong, in particular, has emerged as something of a superstar in the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, and a conviction is likely to stoke anger in the territory.

The June 2014 demonstration was staged outside the Chinese Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government, which many Hong Kongers have come to regard as the command center of Beijing’s operatives. Law, Wong and 20 other demonstrators torched an outsized replica of the white paper.

After police officers doused the flames with bottled water, Wong was captured on video as having snatched an emptied bottle from one of the police officers. A confrontation ensued, and other demonstrators came to Wong’s defense by scolding the officer.


“Wong should’ve known his action would’ve had an impact on his fellow demonstrators,” said prosecutor Edmond Lee. “This was purely a provocative act.”

“The fire has been put out,” countered Wong’s defense attorney, Lawrence Lok. “So what was the point holding on to the bottle?”

“I had meant to recycle it,” testified Sgt. Lai Kin-man, one of the two officers allegedly obstructed by Wong.

Chan, a legislator, and Raphael Wong, a leader of the League of Social Democrats party, face the same charges. All four pleaded not guilty.

“Because the white paper threatens to destroy ‘one country, two systems,’” said Chan, testifying in his own defense, burning it “was how we chose to express our political demand.”

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After the judge ruled that there was sufficient evidence for the government to bring charges against all four, Joshua Wong looked distraught and slumped over to look at this smartphone.

To convict, however, the judge must find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants willfully obstructed police officers to the point that it was difficult for them to carry out their duties.

During its 19 years under Chinese sovereignty, Hong Kong has maintained a lively, freewheeling protest culture thanks to the protection of its constitution. Prosecution is rare, unless physical harm is caused. For example, in April 2015, a demonstrator was sentenced to three weeks in jail for accidentally hitting the territory’s finance secretary with an egg.

Last month, Law and Joshua Wong formed a new political party to field candidates for the Legislative Council elections this fall. A sentence of any length may deal a blow to the fledgling party.

All four remain free in lieu of $65 bail. A verdict is expected on May 23.

Violet Law is a special correspondent.


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