Prominent Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong announced plans Saturday to contest local elections and warned that any attempt to disqualify him will only spur more support for monthslong pro-democracy protests.
His announcement came ahead of a major rally later Saturday to mark the fifth anniversary of the Umbrella protests, where he first shot to fame as a youth leader. During the Umbrella Movement, protesters occupied key thoroughfares in the city for 79 days to demand for free elections for the city’s leaders but failed to win any concession.
Wong, 22, said he will run in district council elections in November and that the vote is crucial to send a message to Beijing that the people are more determined than ever to win the battle for more rights.
“Five years ago, we claimed that we will be back and now we are back with even stronger determination,” he told a news conference. “The battle ahead is the battle for our home and our homeland.”
Wong, who has been arrested and jailed repeatedly, said he is aware that he could be disqualified. Members of the Demosisto party that he co-founded in 2016 have in the past been disqualified from serving and running for office because they advocated self-determination.
He said the political censorship by Beijing showed an erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1996.
“If they disqualify me, it will just generate more and more momentum … they will pay the price,” he said.
Wong is on bail after he was rearrested with several others last month and charged with organizing an illegal rally. It didn’t stop him from going to the U.S., Germany and Taiwan to drum up support for the protest movement that started in June over an extradition bill but has since snowballed into an anti-China campaign. The now-shelved bill, which would have sent some criminal suspects for trial in mainland China, is seen as a jarring example of China’s intrusion into the city’s autonomy.
Wong’s activities have made him a target of the Chinese government, which has used him to accuse foreign powers of colluding with anti-China separatists to foment unrest. Wong accused the government of trying to frame prominent activists such as himself as a warning to other protesters, but said it would fail as the current unrest has no centralized figureheads.
Apart from Saturday’s rally in the city center, protesters are also planning global “anti-totalitarianism” rallies on Sunday in Hong Kong and over 60 cities worldwide to denounce what they called “Chinese tyranny.”
But the biggest worry for the government is on Tuesday. Protesters plan a major march downtown, sparking fears of a bloody showdown that could embarrass China’s ruling Communist Party as it marks its 70th year in power with grand festivities in Beijing. Pro-Beijing groups have also vowed to come out, adding to the tension.
Police have banned the march but protesters have in the past turned up anyway. Hong Kong’s government has toned down National Day celebrations, canceling an annual firework display and moving a reception indoor.