Newly released from prison, Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong immediately called for Chief Executive Carrie Lam to resign from office. His remarks came as thousands of Hong Kong residents demanded that the government permanently shelve a controversial extradition bill.
Wong, 22, had been serving a two-month prison term for contempt of court, related to the 2014 Umbrella Movement street demonstrations. But he was released after serving one month.
The leader of the political group Demosisto, Wong said he isn’t satisfied with Lam’s plan to suspend the extradition measure.
“Hello world and hello freedom,” Wong said on Twitter. “I have just been released from prison. GO HONG KONG!! Withdraw the extradition bill. Carrie Lam step down. Drop all political prosecutions!”
Wong was only 17 when he became the face of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement in which demonstrators railed against what they saw as Beijing’s encroachment on the semiautonomous city’s politics, disrupting the central government district in a call for direct democracy.
Wong’s release came after protesters mounted a huge march for the second Sunday in a row, filling the streets from Victoria Park to the Admiralty area, where the government’s offices are based. Estimates of the crowd’s size ranged from the police figure of 338,000 to organizers’ estimate of nearly 2 million, the Morning Post reports. Those protest marches continued Monday, albeit on a smaller scale.
The demonstrations are a very public response to a proposed law that would allow people who are accused of crimes in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China, where the laws and judicial system are more restrictive and less transparent.
On Sunday, Lam issued a rare apology for the way she has managed the extradition measure. Lam had said the day before that she would put the bill on hold — which demonstrators immediately rejected as a half-measure and demanded that it be scrapped.
Demonstrators see the extradition proposal as another erosion of freedoms and rights in Hong Kong following its 1997 handover from British rule to China’s central government.
The protests are the largest since 2014, when Beijing angered democracy advocates by requiring that any candidate for Hong Kong’s top job must be approved by a committee loyal to China’s central government.
Hong Kong’s Legislative Council has 70 lawmakers — but only 35 of them are directly elected by geographic area, according to its website. And if legislators go too far in advocating for Hong Kong’s independence, they’re subject to being banned from office.
Charles Mok, a pro-democracy member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, says that despite the repeated public demonstrations against the extradition bill, the measure will be adopted if the government insists on pushing it through.
“Because of the design of the system, we are always in the minority,” Mok tells NPR’s Morning Edition. “So that’s why people want universal suffrage — real democracy — in Hong Kong. But we didn’t get that.”
As leaders in Hong Kong try to navigate the storm over the bill, NPR’s Anthony Kuhn reports that “China’s Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, blamed Western media for inciting foreign governments to meddle in China’s internal affairs.”