Hong Kong Student Protest Leader Faces Polarized Legal System

The Hong Kong legal system wants to show the world how they deal with people who oppose the government. Hong Kong courts have brought charges against 18-year-old Joshua Wong, a young man who many have come to see as the face of the protest movement that engulfed Hong Kong last year.

As reported by the L.A. Times, the 2014 Hong Kong protests were unprecedented. They went on for 79 days, within which protesters clashed with police daily. The protests started as a way to push back against what people in Hong Kong felt was encroachment upon the political process by the communist-controlled Beijing government. Beijing sought more leverage to select the political leaders involved in the election process in Hong Kong, but Hong Kong citizens demanded to keep the choices open, not prescreened by Beijing authorities.

Voice of America reported on why authorities are trying to charge the teenage student leader.

“The charges came nearly a year after Wong and dozens of student activists stormed a fenced-off courtyard outside government headquarters during an evening rally to protest Beijing’s plan to restrict elections in the semiautonomous Chinese region.

Police arrested Wong and other key leaders, which drove more people into the streets. Two days later, on Sept. 28, police fired volleys of tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowds, which only enraged the protesters further and kick-started what came to be known both as the Umbrella Movement and Occupy Central.”

When Hong Kong was handed back to China from Great Britain in 1997, the exchange came with a condition. Hong Kong citizens were guaranteed a certain level of democracy until 2047, 50 years after the handover. Protests erupted after policies put forth by Beijing seemed to contradict that.

And at the forefront of that movement were students. And at the forefront of those students was Joshua Wong. His messages for Hong Kong’s self-determination in the face of China’s huge and brutal political apparatus were taken as inspiration by the masses to flood the streets and demand autonomy for the election process.

The result of the struggle to keep Hong Kong’s democracy from eroding was indeed somewhat successful, which is why punishment of the leader of that movement is puzzling. Many thought the students and supporters who protested in the streets of Hong Kong’s main districts would face a backlash from authorities similar to the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, but China’s current president, Xi Jinping, did not allow a repeat of those catastrophic events. Hong Kong protesters did meet violence from police and hired thugs, but not military guns and tanks, like what happened in Beijing in 1989.

[Photo by Anthony Kwan / Getty Images]