Published August 22, 2016 in Episode 55
A Hong Kong court on August 15 sentenced student activist Joshua Wong to 80 hours of community service for his role in the mass protests of 2014 known as the Umbrella Movement. Fellow student leaders Nathan Law and Alex Chow received 120 hours of community and a suspended jail sentence respectively.
When the movement reached its height in 2014, television viewers around the world and especially in Việt Nam watched in awe as the then 18-year-old Wong addressed crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands to call for more freedom in Hong Kong’s elections.
Joshua Wong turns 20 in October and is already a seasoned organizer, having started his activism early. In 2011, while still in high-school, he galvanized students to demand autonomy of Hong Kong’s education system from communist Beijing, eventually forming the student activist group Scholarism. With Wong at the helm, Scholarism became one of the leading organizations of the Umbrella Movement--the largest act of civil disobedience in Hong Kong since the 1997 handover, when control over the city passed from the UK to China.
This spring, Wong and other student leaders formed the pro-democracy political party Demosistō. They are now campaigning to elect student leader and party chairman Nathan Law into the Legislative Council in next month’s election. Wong has been rather persistent when it comes to his life’s passion of activism, as Loa’s Kathy Triệu found out. She was able to speak with him just before he was sentenced. Here is Joshua Wong, On the Record.
Kathy Triệu: Your name has been in so many headlines since you were fifteen years old. hat has that been like for you?
Joshua Wong: Um, I just hope through my influence to allow more people in Hong Kong and a world that care about human rights, democracy, and freedom, to support the movement in Hong Kong, especially facing the interference of the Chinese Communist regime. It’s necessary to gain more people to support our movement.
Triệu: And you being the figure for that, is something you’re comfortable with?
Wong: Umm...it’s not really [an] easy thing, because I’m still a university student, and I need to pay the price for it, especially uh, I need to face the sentencing, on 15th of August. If found guilty, a maximum penalty will be sent in prison for five years. I would just remind myself even being a public opinionator or representative demonstration will not be an easy thing. Actually, someone in this new generation should bear the responsibility to fight for the future of Hong Kong.
Triệu: Wow, that’s very noble. Just stepping back a little bit, I know that this spring, you and some other student leaders founded a new political party, called Demosistō?
Triệu: Could you tell us about Demosistō’s platform, and about any plans for the upcoming legislative council elections?
Wong: Demosistō is the new political party founded by the organizers of [the] Umbrella Movement. We hope to bring and transfer the power of [the] Umbrella Movement inside the institution, and to fight for self-determination and democracy, and let a young and new generation can bring their words inside the institution. So, now Nathan Law, the chairperson of Demosistō, would be the only candidate for us in this election. We hope to get a seat. We hope that Nathan will be the youngest legislator in Hong Kong.
Triệu: So like you mentioned earlier, you and some other student leaders who spearheaded the Umbrella Movement back in 2014, you’re recently convicted of unlawful assembly. How do you think your political party Demosistō will be impacted by the sentencing in a few weeks?
Wong: In the worst case if the court decides to send Nathan to prison more than three months, he would not be able to run in this election. But I think no matter, Nathan is still able in run the election after August 15 or not, we will still continue to fight inside and outside the consul, and hope to get the Hong Kong people and prepare for the next movement in the future.
Triệu: And what does that future look like?
Wong: We are still preparing for the next movement, or campaign, in next year, because in the next year March with this election, it will be the time for us to bring the words of the new generation to enter the executive election. And during the executive election, we will raise our political agenda of demanding self-determination, which means that we have to push forward our self-determination movement referendum, and let Hong Kongers to decide the sovereignty and amend the current constitution and to let Hong Kongers to gain our original rights to determine our future.
Triệu: You’re not scared about the possibility of being jailed...is that right?
Wong: Um...I will just remind myself, hope for the best, and prepare for the worst. It would not be easy time for me, yeah, because if I need to stay in prison, I need to delay my studies. But I just hope the young generation, if after the sentencing, it would just motivate more of the new generation to concern about the future of Hong Kong.
Triệu: And how have people in Hong Kong generally responded to your political activism?
Wong: I think that it’s easy to get the new generation and young people to support us, but, I just hope through my previous commitment and involvement in the movement to let the old generation and old people know that it’s the time to let the young people to determine our future, instead of allowing still, people usually the tycoons, or the pro-Beijing professionalists, or businessmen, to decide all of the things for the young generation, and the youngsters.
Triệu: What are your long term goals for yourself?
Wong: I would still involve in social movement, and fight for the right of self-determination for every Hong Konger. It’s not an easy time, and it’s a long-term battle, especially we are facing largest communist regime in the world but we will hope to—through our courage and our commitment--to fight for the future of Hong Kong. I would still be activist in the street and maybe in the future I may get a chance to enter the council.
Triệu: Like yourself, most of our Loa listeners are young activists, and they’re listening from inside Việt Nam and around the world. Do you have a message you want to give to them?
Wong: I just hope to remind every activist in the world we have our different cultural and diverse political contexts, but actually we are also facing suppression from the tycoon elites, and the upper class. So, actually it’s really a long-term battle. Sometimes we may be downhearted and depressed but if we know that it’s a tough social movement and activism is just like turning something impossible to be possible. Just show our courage and persistence. Finally we can win back the place that we live, and win back the future of our generation.
Triệu: I just want to thank you so much for your time. I know you’re very busy. Good luck with everything.
Wong: Okay, thank you for interview.
Triệu: Alright, bye!
*Images used with permission from www.facebook.com/joshuawongchifung.