Prominent Hong Kong dissident Joshua Wong announced that he and two other leading activists will plead guilty at the start of a trial over their involvement in last year’s protests on Monday, adding that he expects imprisonment.
Hong Kong was shaken by seven straight months of huge and often violent democracy rallies last year where millions took to the streets.
Beijing and the local authorities have refused demands for free elections and have responded with a growing force to democracy support.
Wong, 24, is being prosecuted along with Ivan Lam and Agnes Chow – two other well-known dissidents – over a protest that took place last summer outside the city police headquarters.
“The three of us have decided to plead guilty to all charges,” Wong told reporters. “It will not be surprising if I am sent to immediate detention today.”
“We will continue to fight for freedom – and it is not time for us to go to Beijing and give up,” he added.
The police became a target for protesters after tear gas and rubber bullets are routinely used to clear the crowds when demonstrations began in June last year.
The force’s headquarters were besieged on several occasions with crowds throwing eggs and dropping walls with graffiti.
Prosecutors accused Wong, Lam and Chow of leading, encouraging and agreeing to one of the protests outside the station.
Chow had already said she planned to plead guilty, a tactic that could lead to a lighter sentence.
Wong and Lam had originally promised to fight the allegations.
But a day before Monday’s trial was due to begin, Wong changed course and announced his plan to plead guilty on Facebook.
They get up to five years in prison.
Despite his youth, Wong has already spent time in prison for leading democracy protests.
He became an activist when he was only 12 years old and organized successful meetings against plans to make Hong Kong’s education system more ‘patriotic’ and similar to the mainland.
Since 2014, he has helped inspire and lead the “umbrella movement” – a 79-day peaceful occupation of three busy intersections through a largely student-led campaign that calls for universal suffrage.
He was imprisoned for his involvement in these protests, along with most of the movement’s leaders.
When last year’s much bigger democracy protests started, Wong was still in prison.
He promised to continue fighting for democracy when he was released and made appearances at many meetings throughout the year.
However, the protests were deliberately leaderless, mostly organized by social media and encrypted chat forums.
They were also much more violent. The riot police released thousands of rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets and were often filmed using batons to beat arrested protesters.
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 courts are now filled with trials as most of the city’s leading activists and opposition figures face prosecution.
The demonstrations took place at the beginning of the year due to fatigue, mass arrests and the emergence of coronavirus.
An anti-pandemic ban on more than four people gathering in public has remained in place for most of this year.
Beijing has also introduced a broad security law that strengthens its direct control over the semi-autonomous city and bans certain political views. Opposition lawmakers have also been disqualified.
Authorities say they have returned much-needed stability to the global trade hub.
Critics oppose 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.