Wong and two other activists were taken into custody after the hearing. Wong was not a leading figure in last year’s anti-China protests but has drawn the wrath of Beijing, which sees his activism as a “black hand” of foreign forces.

Activists Ivan Lam, Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow arrive at the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts to face charges related to illegal assembly stemming from 2019, in Hong Kong, China, November 23, 2020
Activists Ivan Lam, Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow arrive at the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts to face charges related to illegal assembly stemming from 2019, in Hong Kong, China, November 23, 2020 (Reuters)

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong was remanded in custody after pleading guilty to charges of organising and inciting an unauthorised assembly near the police headquarters during last year's anti-government protests.

Wong, who was just 17 years old when he became the face of the 2014 student-led Umbrella Movement democracy protests, faces a maximum three-year jail term. The sentence will be delivered by December 2 at 2.30 pm (1830 GMT).

Before being taken away by security staff, Wong shouted "Everyone hang in there! Add oil" in the courtroom, using a popular Cantonese expression of encouragement often used during protests.

Wong did not plead guilty to a third charge of knowingly participating in an unauthorised assembly after the prosecution offered no evidence for it.

His long-time activist colleagues Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam, who also pleaded guilty for similar charges, were remanded in custody at the same trial.

"Perhaps the authorities wish me to stay in prison one term after another," Wong said in a statement before entering the courtroom.

"But I am persuaded that, neither prison bars, nor election bans, nor any other arbitrary powers would stop us from activism. What we are doing now is to explain the value of freedom to the world."

Wong was not a leading figure in last year's anti-China protests, but his continued activism has drawn the wrath of Beijing, which sees it as a "black hand" of foreign forces.

 National security law

He disbanded his anti-Beijing group Demosisto in June, just hours after China's parliament passed a sweeping national security law for Hong Kong, punishing anything Beijing considers as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with up to life in prison.

His long-time activist colleague Agnes Chow has already pleaded guilty to charges related to the same June 2019 protest, while Ivan Lam, another former Demosisto colleague was also expected to plead guilty.

Wong also faces charges of participating in an unauthorised assembly in October 2019 and on June 4, 2020 over a vigil commemorating the crackdown on protesters in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Earlier this year, Wong was disqualified along 11 other anti- Beijing politicians and activists from running in a since-postponed election for the city's legislature.

Wong spent five weeks in jail last year for contempt of court, before being released on June 16 when protests were already in full swing.

Wong's and other activists' repeated arrests have drawn criticism from Western governments who say China is not fulfilling its obligation to allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, agreed with former colonial master Britain when the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China denies the accusation and says Hong Kong is its internal affair.

READ MORE: Hong Kong police arrest three ex-lawmakers over May, June protests

Youthful leaders 

Despite his youth, Wong has already spent time in prison for leading anti-Beijing protests.

He became an activist when he was just 12-years-old, organising successful rallies against plans to make Hong Kong's education system more 'patriotic' and similar to the mainland.

When last year's much larger anti-Beijing protests kicked off, Wong was still in jail.

He vowed to continue fighting for anti-Beijing on his release and made appearances at numerous rallies throughout the year.

However the protests were deliberately leaderless, mostly organised by social media and encrypted chat forums.

They were also much more violent. Riot police unleashed thousands of rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets and were frequently filmed using batons to beat arrested demonstrators.

Small groups of hardline activists resorted to rocks, petrol bombs and even bows and arrows.

More than 10,000 people were arrested during the protests and Hong Kong's courts are now filled with trials as most of the city's leading activists and opposition figures face prosecution.

The demonstrations petered out at the start of the year thanks to fatigue, mass arrests and the emergence of the coronavirus.

An anti-pandemic ban on more than four people gathering in public has remained in place for most of this year.

Opposition lawmakers have also been disqualified.

Authorities say they have returned much needed stability to the global trade hub.

Critics counter that none of the underlying causes of the unrest have been addressed, and that opposition to Beijing's rule remains widespread despite the lack of street protests.

READ MORE: Hong Kong legislature holds session sans opposition lawmakers 

Source: Reuters