Prominent Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong announced plans Saturday to contest local elections and warned that any attempt to disqualify him will only spur more support for monthslong pro-democracy protests.
His announcement came ahead of a major rally later 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 semiautonomous Chinese territory for 79 days to demand for free elections for the city's leaders but failed to win any concessions.
Wong, 22, said that he will run in district council elections in November and 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.
"Five years ago, we claimed that we will be back and now we are back with even stronger determination," he told a news conference. "The battle ahead is the battle for our home and our homeland."
Wong, who has been arrested and jailed repeatedly, said he is aware that he could be disqualified. 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 1996.
"If they disqualify me, it will just generate more and more momentum ... they will pay the price," he said.
Wong is out on bail after he was rearrested with several other people last month and charged with organizing an illegal rally. It didn't stop him from going to the U.S., Germany and Taiwan to drum up support for the current protest movement, which 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.
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. Wong accused the government of trying to frame prominent activists such as himself as a warning to other protesters but said it would fail because the current movement has no centralized figureheads.
Apart from Saturday's rally in the city center, protesters are also planning global "anti-totalitarianism" rallies on Sunday in Hong Kong and over 60 other cities worldwide to denounce what they called "Chinese tyranny."
But the biggest worry for the government is on Tuesday. Protesters plan a major march downtown, 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 come out, 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, canceling an annual firework display and moving a reception indoors.
Separately, American academic Dan Garrett, who testified at a U.S. congressional hearing with Wong on Sept. 18, said Saturday that he was denied entry into Hong Kong on Thursday due to "unspecified immigration reasons."
He tweeted that it was the first time he was barred after having visited and lived in Hong Kong for two decades.
Garrett and other speakers spoke about the weakening of Hong Kong's autonomy as some U.S. congressmen sought to push through a bill to support the democracy movement.
U.S. Rep. James McGovern and Sen. Marco Rubio, who are spearheading efforts on the bill, pledged in a joint statement to stand with the people of Hong Kong by "swiftly passing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in the U.S. Congress."
They said there was an "accelerated erosion" of Hong Kong's human rights and freedoms since the 2014 Umbrella Movement. They urged Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam's government to make universal suffrage a priority and acquiesce to demands for an independent inquiry on alleged police brutality against protesters.
China has slammed 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.