Jailed Hong Kong democracy leader Joshua Wong arrested for 'subversion': Police source

Wong, 24, was prosecuted and jailed last month.
Wong, 24, was prosecuted and jailed last month.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - Jailed Hong Kong democracy campaigner Joshua Wong was arrested by police on Thursday (Jan 7) under the city's new national security law, a senior police source told Agence France-Presse.

His arrest comes as more than 1,000 police officers detained 53 prominent figures – including a United States citizen – in dawn raids on Wednesday on charges of “subversion”, a new national security crime that carries up to life in prison.

The sweep was the latest salvo in Beijing’s battle to stamp out dissent in the semi-autonomous city after millions hit the streets in 2019 with huge and sometimes violent democracy protests.

A senior police source told AFP that Wong – currently serving his sentence in Shek Pik Prison – was arrested on a new charge of subversion, the first time he has been detained under the new national security law.

The 24-year-old is one of the city’s most recognisable democracy advocates and is currently serving a jail sentence for his role in organising democracy protests.

Local media reported that Tam Tak-chi, another activist currently in custody on a sedition charge, was also arrested for subversion on Thursday morning.

The alleged offence of those arrested for subversion was to organise an unofficial primary last summer to decide who would stand as candidates for the city’s partially-elected legislature in the hopes they might take a majority for the first time.

Many of those candidates were ultimately disqualified from standing and authorities scrapped the election because of the coronavirus.

But Chinese and Hong Kong officials have labelled the primary as an attempt to “overthrow” and “paralyse” the city’s government and therefore a threat to national security.

A senior police source told AFP on Thursday that most of those arrested were expected to initially be released on bail later in the day, rather than charged.

Those charged with national security crimes are not usually granted bail.

The national security law was imposed on Hong Kong in late June in response to the 2019 protests, targeting acts Beijing deems to be secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

Officials said the security law would target only an “extreme minority” and was needed to restore stability after 2019’s huge and often violent democracy rallies.

Wong was prosecuted and jailed last month alongside fellow activists Agnes Chow, 23, and Ivan Lam, 26, over a rally outside the police headquarters.

The three pleaded guilty to various charges including inciting an unlawful assembly.

Chow was sentenced to 10 months in jail and Lam, seven months.

Wong, Chow and Lam joined Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement when they were in their teens.

They organised successful rallies in 2012 against plans to make Hong Kong's education system more "patriotic".

And they played prominent roles two years later in the Umbrella Movement - a 79-day peaceful occupation by a largely student-led campaign calling for universal suffrage.