Hong Kong student leader Joshua Wong, who helped lead the months-long “Umbrella Movement” in 2014 demanding full democracy, said on Thursday he would not fight a charge related to the protests in the spirit of civil disobedience.
The Hong Kong protests that Wong and others helped drive represented one of the biggest populist challenges in decades to the leaders of China’s Communist Party since the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement in Beijing.
Wong was one of 20 protesters charged with contempt of court after refusing to obey a court order and leave a protest zone in the working-class district of Mong Kok.
“I choose to plead guilty in this case to show, as an organizer of civil disobedience, I am willing to bear legal responsibility,” the 20-year-old Wong said outside the High Court, flanked by a few supporters.
“Although there’s a chance I might be put in jail, I have no regrets.”
In written statements to the court, Wong and several respondents, including another student leader Lester Shum, “admitted liability”, rather than explicitly pleading guilty, as is the case in a civil, rather than criminal, lawsuit.
The former British colony that marked its 20th anniversary under Chinese rule on July 1 is governed under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees it a high degree of autonomy, civil liberties, an independent judiciary and the promise of universal suffrage as an “ultimate” aim.
The movement was triggered in part by Beijing’s longstanding refusal to grant the city of 7.3 million people a direct vote for a new Hong Kong leader that would include pro-democracy, opposition candidates.
Although Beijing had offered Hong Kong a democratic reform blueprint for a direct vote, it envisaged the city’s next leader being drawn only from candidates essentially pre-screened by a small panel packed with pro-Beijing loyalists.
This package was vetoed in 2015 by opposition pro-democracy lawmakers who called it fake, China-style democracy.
Wong’s lawyer, Lawrence Lok, told judge Andrew Chan that Wong acted peacefully throughout the protests.
“This young man had a noble motive in doing what he did,” Lok said, adding that a jail sentence of three months or more would dash Wong’s hopes of running for a seat in the legislature in the future.
Wong has previously been found guilty of unlawful assembly on a charge also related to the 2014 protests, but he avoided jail time.
He was also arrested for “public nuisance” last week on the eve of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Hong Kong, after he and 25 activists climbed up a symbolic golden flower statue that commemorates the handover.