(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong joined calls for Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s resignation after being released from a two-month jail sentence that sidelined him from some of the largest mass protests since the former British colony’s return two decades ago.
Just after his walking out of Lai Chi Kok Correctional Institute in the city’s Kowloon district, Wong -- the face of the Occupy movement in 2014 -- said he would soon join protesters seeking for Lam to quit. Wong, 22, said the “chaos” surrounding the protests, including clashes between demonstrators and police, showed how China and the Beijing-backed local government were losing hearts and minds.
“After this rally and protest, it showed that Beijing turned the whole generation of students into dissidents,” told Bloomberg News outside the city’s Legislative Council on Monday. He was greeted with cheers upon his return to the scene of some of his most dramatic protests after missing the recent excitement.
Wong said he watched footage of Sunday’s protest, in which marchers called for Lam to step down, from his jail cell. “Instead of asking who will be the best person to rule Hong Kong, I will ask what’s the best system, the suitable election system, to let people decide who leads Hong Kong,” he said.
Members of Demosisto, the pro-democracy party Wong co-founded, were on hand at the prison for his release. “Add oil, Chi-fung, I want true universal suffrage!” an elderly female supporter shouted, calling Wong by his Chinese name and using a popular phrase similar to “lean in.” Universal suffrage -- which in Hong Kong is shorthand for direct elections of the city’s chief executive -- was the main goal of the Occupy protests.
Thousands of people also took to the streets in 2017 when Wong received a six-month sentence for charges against him relating to the pro-democracy Occupy movement. Wong got a subsequent three-month sentence for contempt of court, which was reduced to two in May upon returning from bail. It was reduced due to sentencing guidelines.
Organizers said close to 2 million people had taken to the streets to protest the legislation on Sunday, his final day in prison, which would allow extraditions to mainland China for the first time. Police put the tally at 338,000.
Wong, a former student leader, started his activist career during protests that forced the withdrawal of a national education curriculum in 2012 and later co-founded Demosisto. Now free, he could further rally demonstrators -- including the small number who remained in the financial district Monday morning.
Hong Kong rose up in defiance the day after Lam suspended the bill. People demanding its full withdrawal flooded the streets, bringing the city center to a standstill for a second straight weekend and drawing a formal apology from the embattled leader.
“I have never imagined more than a million Hong Kong people would join the demonstration,” Wong said. “Five years ago we claimed that we would be back. Finally, we did it.”
--With assistance from Colin Keatinge.
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