Prominent Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong has announced plans to contest local elections, and warned that any attempt to disqualify him will only increase support for pro-democracy protests.
Mr Wong’s announcement comes ahead of a major rally on Saturday to mark the fifth anniversary of the Umbrella protests, where he first shot to fame as a youth leader.
During the Umbrella Movement, protesters occupied key thoroughfares in the city for 79 days to demand free elections for the city’s leaders, but failed to win any concessions.
Mr Wong said he will run in district council elections in November. He added that the vote is crucial to send a message to Beijing that the people are more determined than ever to win the battle for more rights.
The activist told a news conference: “Five years ago, we claimed that we will be back and now we are back with even stronger determination.
“The battle ahead is the battle for our home and our homeland.”
Mr Wong, who has been arrested and jailed repeatedly, said he is aware that he could be disqualified from standing. Members of the Demosisto party that he co-founded in 2016 have in the past been disqualified from serving and running for office because they advocated self-determination.
He said the political censorship by Beijing showed an erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
“If they disqualify me, it will just generate more and more momentum … they will pay the price,” he said.
It did not stop him from going to the US, Germany and Taiwan to drum up support for the protest movement that started in June over an extradition bill but has since snowballed into an anti-China campaign.
The now-shelved bill, which would have sent some criminal suspects for trial in mainland China, is seen as a jarring example of China’s intrusion into the city’s autonomy.
Mr Wong’s activities have made him a target of the Chinese government, which has used him to accuse foreign powers of colluding with anti-China separatists to foment unrest.
He accused the government of trying to frame prominent activists such as himself as a warning to other protesters, but said it would fail as the current unrest has no centralised figureheads.
The biggest worry for the government is on Tuesday.
Protesters plan a major march in the city, sparking fears of a bloody showdown that could embarrass China’s ruling Communist Party as it marks its 70th year in power with grand festivities in Beijing.
Pro-Beijing groups have also vowed to take to the streets, adding to the tension.
Police have banned the march but protesters have in the past turned up anyway. Hong Kong’s government has toned down National Day celebrations, cancelling an annual firework display and moving a reception indoors.
Separately, US representative James McGovern and senator Marco Rubio, who are spearheading efforts to push through a law to support Hong Kong’s democracy, said in a joint statement there had been an “accelerated erosion” of Hong Kong’s human rights and freedom since the 2014 Umbrella Movement.
They urged Carrie Lam’s government to make universal suffrage a priority and acquiesce to demands for an independent inquiry on alleged police brutality against protesters.
“We continue to stand with the people of Hong Kong … we also stand committed to swiftly passing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in the US congress,” they said.
China has attacked the bill, which proposes economic sanctions and penalties on Chinese and Hong Kong officials found to have suppressed democracy in the city, as interference in its affairs.