Of the issues Joshua Wong has faced during his time as an activist—harassment by Chinese state media, travel bans, and disqualification from local politics—the loquacious dissident rarely suffers a loss for words. But that was the problem nearly a decade ago, when he gave one of his first broadcast interviews. Wong, then just a teenager, was organizing and leading demonstrations that eventually made Hong Kong’s government withdraw controversial education reforms, but during that questioning, he “stuttered a lot,” he later recalled, admitting that he needed more than a dozen tries to do the take. Experiences like those helped prepare Wong, who a few years later would achieve international fame as a prodemocracy champion standing up to Beijing’s growing suppression.
Now those early successes are being undone, and hope is dwindling that Hong Kong’s prodemocracy movement can withstand Beijing’s incursions on the city. Eight years on from Wong’s first unlikely victory, which saw the authorities back down from plans to instill Chinese patriotism through schooling, the changes he helped stave off are beginning to take hold. And today he was sentenced to more than a year in jail on charges stemming from last year’s demonstrations. Two other activists, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam, were sentenced along with him, though to less time—all had earlier pleaded guilty—and Wong faces still more charges. Their prison terms will be trumpeted by Beijing, which has fixated on Wong and his compatriots for years. The sentences, and the slate of other allegations that the trio and other activists face, are an effort to silence the icons of Hong Kong’s prodemocracy movement while Beijing continues its march across the city unrestrained.