Pro-Democratic leader Joshua Wong arrested in Hong Kong

Hong Kong authorities have arrested Joshua Wong over a 2019 protest and for allegedly violating an anti-mask law which courts have since found partially unconstitutional, according to the activist’s social media accounts.

The veteran activist Koo Sze-yiu was also arrested, pro-democracy figures told the Guardian.

Wong, 23, is one of the most high-profile figures of the pro-democracy movement which drew mass protests on to the streets of Hong Kong throughout much of 2019, before the pandemic and then draconian national security laws brought them to an end this year.

Posts on Wong’s official social media accounts said on Thursday afternoon he had been arrested over participating in an unauthorised assembly on 5 October 2019.

“He is told to have violated the draconian anti-mask law, which was earlier ruled partially unconstitutional by the court of appeal,” the post said.

Wong was released on bail a few hours later, and told media the international community should focus less on prominent activists such as him and call for the release of the 12 Hongkongers detained in mainland China after allegedly attempting to flee Hong Kong for Taiwan by boat.

In August Wong was among 24 arrested over attending a candlelight vigil for the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

It has also been confirmed to the Guardian that Koo Sze-yiu, was arrested earlier on Thursday, for allegedly participating in an unauthorised protest. Koo, 74, is being treated for late-stage cancer and had a medical appointment scheduled on Thursday afternoon. Koo was last jailed on a six-week sentence in June, for desecrating the Hong Kong flag, local media reported at the time.

The 5 October rally was attended by thousands, including Wong. It was partly driven by an announcement earlier that day, that the chief executive, Carrie Lam, would invoke emergency regulations to pass a law forbidding the wearing of masks, which protesters frequently used to shield their identities or protect themselves from police crowd control tactics. Analysts said it marked the beginning of authoritarian rule in Hong Kong, and thousands took to the streets in protest for a night which descended into violence, with teargas deployed by police, and fires lit by protesters at two metro stations.

An appeal against the law against masks was taken to Hong Kong’s highest court in April, which found it to be partially unconstitutional.

The court found Hong Kong’s chief executive could use the colonial-era regulations to make emergency decrees for public safety, and that banning masks was constitutional – but only at unlawful gatherings. It found that banning masks at lawful gatherings and allowing police to demand their removal was unconstitutional.

The amended anti-mask law remains active despite a concurrent legal requirement that all people must wear masks in public because of the pandemic.

A US-based activist and friend of Wong, Jeffrey Ngo, said Wong had been reporting to the police station twice a week while on bail for a separate protest-related case.

“This is where he was arrested earlier for participating in an unauthorised assembly and violating the anti-mask law,” Ngo said on Twitter.

“The government creates the illusion of relative normality – through a week or two of relative tranquility at a time – to lower your guard. Then they gaslight … you with sudden crackdowns.”

Wong’s co-founders of the now disbanded political party, Demosisto, have also been targeted. Agnes Chow was arrested last month under the new national security law, and Nathan Law fled to the UK.

Johnny Patterson, Director of Hong Kong Watch said: “Joshua Wong’s arrest is the latest example of flagrant political prosecution in Hong Kong. Beijing, and their counterparts in the Hong Kong government, are waging a campaign of lawfare, abusing the courts to silence their political opponents and create an atmosphere of self-censorship.”

Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch said the arrest was an indictment of Hong Kong’s legal and political systems.

Wong’s case is scheduled for mention at the Eastern District magistrates court on Monday.