Hong Kong activist Raphael Wong on what scares him more than going back to prison
Awaiting his next criminal sentence while still appealing his last, the young protester says he only acts out of a ‘will to safeguard’ his city
Activist Raphael Wong Ho-ming has always stood at the front of social movements, when not sat in the dock for at least 10 protest-related court cases.
But Wong admitted his first taste of life behind bars, after nine years involved in local politics, was filled with tears and fears. He was among activists bailed last week pending appeal after being jailed for storming the city’s legislature in 2014.
“It was like I had fallen into a dark sea … I kept swimming towards an island nowhere to be seen.
“Each weekly visit, each letter received was a float; the current bail break is like a floating platform for me to catch my breath,” he said.
Wong, 29, will go back to jail if he loses his appeal to the top court. And he is still awaiting sentence for contempt of court during 2014’s pro-democracy Occupy protests, of which he was convicted in October. He will be sentenced on December 7.
The vice-chairman of the League of Social Democrats, a pro-democracy political party, does not hide how scared he was during his three months at maximum-security Stanley Prison.
Wong and 12 other activists were convicted of unlawful assembly for storming the city’s legislature in June 2014, in one of several protests against the government’s plan to build a new town in the northeast New Territories.
Officials want to build in Kwu Tung and Fanling North. But that would involve forcing villagers there from their homes, which opponents say is unfair.
The 13 were at first given community service, but the Department of Justice successfully sought harsher penalties, landing them in jail for between eight and 13 months each.
Eight of them – including Wong, who was among those sentenced to 13 months – were granted bail on Friday, pending an appeal at the top court against the toughened sentences.
Wong said uncertainty about the future had weighed on him during his initial weeks in prison. His plan to get married on November 24 next year, his and his fiancée’s 12-year anniversary as a couple, was squashed.
Wong said he only felt relieved when his partner assured him, during her first visit to him on his third day in jail, that she would wait for him. The couple burst into tears when they saw each other, and he cried more when he was reading her first letter, he said.
He was reduced to tears too when he heard his father, a former member of a pro-Beijing alliance, tell the media he was proud of him.
Despite low moments, Wong said he was determined not to bow to pressure but continue to fight for Hong Kong’s democracy.
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“I have a brain made of granite. I have persistence made of granite,” Wong said, flipping on its head the mockery of a Beijing official who said the same thing about local critics of the central government, but did not mean it as a compliment.
Wong joined the League of Social Democrats while studying at Polytechnic University in 2008.
Three years later he faced his first prosecution after being accused of intending to provoke a breach of peace when he threw then chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen a box of rice with fish in corn sauce during a protest. Wong was acquitted.
But he faced prosecutions over at least nine other protest-related cases in the following years, including the Legislative Council storming, which landed him in jail for the first time.
Wong, a Christian, said he sought strength from prayer, and gained comfort from reading the autobiography of late Nobel laureate and Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in prison.
“I must tell you I have no regrets today, as I have to shoulder my responsibilities,” he said.
“I just hope I will say the same 30 years later.”
He called for unity among pro-democracy forces in the city, to prepare for future battles.
“We did [the protests] due to our love for this place, and our will to safeguard this place,” he said, adding that going back to prison did not scare him as much as the prospect of the city’s politics growing cynical.
He said: “Compared to the bitterness in jail, what I was afraid of more was Hongkongers turning indifferent and silent.”