Grandma Wong, fixture of Hong Kong protests, jailed for 8 months

The veteran activist served two short terms in prison in July 2021 and in April this year.

Portrait photo of veteran Hong Kong activist Alexandra Wong, better known as 'Grandma Wong'
Veteran activist Alexandra Wong, popularly known as "Grandma Wong", has been for eight months on charges of unlawful assembly [File: Peter Parks/AFP]

A Hong Kong court has found veteran activist Alexandra Wong, better known to the world as “Grandma Wong”, guilty of two counts of illegal assembly landing her back in jail for eight months.

The magistrate on Wednesday said Wong’s flag-waving was a symbol of encouragement that incited other protesters and cited the “scale and disruption” of the 2019 protests as part of his sentencing considerations.

As a veteran activist, Wong, 66, has been in and out of the courts over the past few years for her political activities in Hong Kong. Her latest case concerns a protest in August 2019 where Wong reportedly uttered “illegal words”.

Wong was a frequent fixture at the months-long democracy protests that year often spotted carrying a British flag – a symbol of the city’s colonial past.

Wong reportedly changed her plea to not guilty shortly before her trial began.

The sentence will not see Wong for the first time in prison. She served two short terms in July 2021 and again in April this year for separately obstructing a police officer and assaulting a security guard during protests.

Grandma Wong, wrapped in a Hong Kong colonial-era flag, is taken away by two Hong Kong police after protesting on July 1, the day marking the territory's handover to China
The magistrate specifically mentioned Wong’s flag-waving in jailing her for eight months [File: Peter Parks/AFP]

Wong also disappeared during the 2019 democracy protests for 14 months while visiting Shenzhen, a Chinese city just over the border.

Wong later told the media she was held in administrative and then criminal detention for weeks, during which time she was required to sign a confession and promise not to protest again.

She was then taken on a forced five-day holiday or “patriotic tour” of China – a not uncommon tactic used to deal with activists – and required to stay in Shenzhen for 12 months.

After her return to Hong Kong in late 2020, Wong pledged to continue protesting even after her time in detention.

She kept her promise and staged a one-woman demonstration last May near Beijing’s Hong Kong headquarters to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown despite restrictions on gatherings.

After months of demonstrations in 2019, Hong Kong’s once vibrant protest culture was brought to an end first by pandemic restrictions on gatherings and then in June 2020 by sweeping national security legislation. Journalists and activists have also fallen foul of the revived colonial-era sedition laws.

Hong Kong courts have come down hard on those who continued to demonstrate throughout 2019 without official police permission. In some cases, the government has prosecuted residents for simply sharing Facebook posts with calls to protest.

The Hong Kong Democracy Council, a US-based activist group, said since 2019 Hong Kong has arrested more than 10,000 people for protest-related activities and prosecuted nearly 3,000. The current conviction rate stands at 67 percent.

The vast majority are below 30, but exceptions remain like Wong and another elderly protester, 75-year-old and terminally-ill Koo Sze-yiu who was jailed for nine months this week for “attempted sedition”.

Koo, who has rectal cancer, called for a protest on Facebook outside Beijing’s headquarters in Hong Kong against the Winter Olympics but unlike Wong was unable to carry it out. He was held without bail until his trial.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies