HONG KONG -- Hong Kong pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow were placed in custody on Monday and face imprisonment after they pleaded guilty to charges related to an unauthorized protest near police headquarters last year, as local authorities step up prosecutions of political dissidents.
The former student leaders, along with fellow activist Ivan Lam, could be imprisoned for up to five years for charges related to the June 21, 2019 protest, including organizing, taking part in and inciting others to participate in an unauthorized assembly.
The three of them have been denied bail, meaning that they will be remanded in custody until the court hands down sentences on Dec. 2.
"Whether [the protest] is an offense or a necessary move to fight for democracy, I guess Hong Kongers know the answer," Lam said as he entered the courthouse.
Wong also faces several charges involving other protests while Chow is accused of inciting secession -- a charge under the new national security law -- which could lead to extradition to mainland China for trial and a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Outside the court on Monday, the 24-year-old Wong, who is set to serve his fourth jail term in three years, vowed to continue his activism despite what he called "political suppression."
"Perhaps the authorities wish me to stay in prison one term after another. But I am persuaded that neither prison bars, nor election bans, nor any other arbitrary powers would stop us from activism," Wong said. "What we are doing now is to explain the value of freedom to the world... so much that we are willing to sacrifice the freedom of our own."
On Sunday evening, Chow, who will turn 24 next month, wrote on her Facebook page that she was "mentally prepared" to go to prison although she was "still a bit scared."
"It will be the first time for me" to go to jail, she wrote. "I will handle this bravely... There are many other difficulties ahead and I hope I can keep my perseverance."
Wong and Chow were first thrust into the public spotlight in 2012 when they protested against a controversial national education curriculum that critics described as "Beijing's brainwashing tool." The two later became faces of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement following their leadership roles in the 2014 Umbrella Movement.
In 2016, the pair co-founded pro-democracy party Demosisto with fellow activist Nathan Law, but were repeatedly barred from running for local elections. The group was dissolved as the sweeping national security law came into effect last June 30.
The new security law imposed by Beijing carries criminal penalties of up to life imprisonment for those found guilty of separatism, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign powers.
Law currently is living in exile as he continues international advocacy work.