Demonstrator who poured into the streets of Hong Kong yesterday got an unexpected bit of welcome news in the midst of another mass protest: Joshua Wong, one of the lead protestors during the 2014 pro-democracy movement, would be getting out of jail early.
Demosisto, the political party Wong co-founded, stated that he would be set free from the Lai Chi Kok Correctional Institute on the morning of June 17, short of his scheduled release date. He was sentenced to serve two months in prison, starting on May 16, 2019, for contempt of court for refusing to leave a protest site in Hong Kong in 2014. Upon his release this morning, Wong immediately pledged his support to the battle against the “evil law,” and reiterated the protesters’ main demands.
It’s unclear what led to Wong’s early release. Under Hong Kong regulations, convicts in prison for more than one month can have their sentences reduced as a reward for good behavior after a minimum of 31 days.
The street demonstrations may resemble the 2014 movement in its massive turnout figures, high spirits and the peaceful nature of the protesters, but Wong is being released into a new moment in activism. A proposed law that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China has led to mass protests and a surprising reversal by Hong Kong’s chief executive.
A major difference between 2014 and today is that these demonstrations are not led by major political parties and organizations, according to Wai-Kwok Benson Wong, a lecturer at School of Languages and Cultures at University of Hong Kong. He says that the Civil Human Rights Front, which is seen as one of the primary organizers of the demonstrations, is more of a platform for spontaneous demonstration.
Citizens have organized themselves through civil society, business and school groups and worked to minimize the identity of leaders to avoid reprisals from the government.
Many of the current demonstrators came prepared with facial masks and umbrellas to protect themselves from tear gas deployed by riot police and surveillance that might expose their identities. These are lessons learned in 2014; following those demonstrations, the Hong Kong government arrested another leading group of organizers, known as the Umbrella Nine, and jailed them for up to 16 months.
Tony Lin contributed reporting to this post.
Update, June 17: This story was updated with details of Wong’s release, and his comments today.