HONG KONG - 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.”
Risk of being disqualified
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.
On Saturday, protesters were rebuilding Lennon Walls of anti-government graffiti as they marked the Umbrella anniversary.
Some Lennon Walls were torn down by pro-Beijing activists last weekend. The large mosaics of Post-it notes calling for democracy have cropped up in underpasses, outside shopping centers, at bus stops and universities.
“Lennon Walls carry the spirit of civil disobedience from the Umbrella movement,” said pro-democracy protester Kelvin Law, 24. “I am not sure when this protest will end. Either we win or we lose. But as long as we are united and fight, generation after generation, we can achieve democracy.”
Apart from Saturday’s rally in the city center, protesters are also planning global “anti-totalitarianism” rallies Sunday in Hong Kong and more than 60 cities worldwide to denounce what they called “Chinese tyranny.”
Fears for Tuesday
But the biggest worry for the government is 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.
Separately, U.S. Rep. James McGovern and Sen. Marco Rubio, who are spearheading efforts to push through a law to support Hong Kong’s democracy, said in a joint statement there was an “accelerated erosion” of Hong Kong’s human rights and freedom since the 2014 Umbrella Movement.
They urged Carrie Lam’s government to make universal suffrage a priority and acquiesce to demands for an independent inquiry on alleged police brutality against protesters.
“We continue to stand with the people of Hong Kong ... we also stand committed to swiftly passing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in the U.S. Congress,” they said.
China has slammed the bill, which proposes economic sanctions and penalties on Chinese and Hong Kong officials found to have suppressed democracy in the city as interference in its affairs.
Reuters contributed to this report.