(New York, NY) – Chinese authorities arrested Hong Kong pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow Friday following a spate of similar detentions over the past two days. PEN America today in a statement called the arrests a renewed assault on free expression rights.

“These arrests represent an assault on activism and protest in Hong Kong,” said James Tager, deputy director of free expression research and policy at PEN America. “Coming in the days before what was expected to be a major political rally, and during a time in which hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers have been taking to the streets to make their voices heard, it is obvious that these charges are geared instead towards chilling future actions and sending a message that protest will be met with punishment.”

Wong and Chow have not been leading the current wave of demonstrations in Hong Kong sparked by a proposed extradition bill introduced earlier this year. Still, both Wong and Chow are highly visible pro-democracy activists, best known for their role as organizers in the 2014 “Umbrella Revolution” protests, a civil disobedience campaign aimed at obtaining a democratic process for the selection of the city’s chief executive. The charges against them are reportedly related to a June 2019 protest at police headquarters in the Wan Chai neighborhood. 

After his arrest, Wong tweeted, “It is completely ridiculous that the police target specific prominent figures of social movement[s] in the past and fram[e] them as the leaders of the anti-extradition bill protests.”

“This is not the justice system in action,” said PEN America’s Tager. “Rather, this is a crackdown against critical voices whose influence the Hong Kong—and Beijing—governments fear.”

Wong and Chow are among various pro-democracy advocates who have been arrested over the past two days, including former president of the University of Hong Kong’s student union, Althea Suen; pro-democracy lawmakers Cheng Chung-taiJeremy Tam, and Au Nok-hin; leader of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party Andy Chan; and Shatin District official Wong Hok Lai. Ivan Lam, chairman of the advocacy group Demosisto, was also charged on Friday with inciting an unauthorized assembly, but was not arrested as he is currently outside Hong Kong.

PEN America has long been engaged on the issues of protest rightsfreedom of expression, and press freedom in Hong Kong. In November 2016, PEN America led a publisher’s delegation to the city to discuss the aftermath of the Causeway Bay Bookstore disappearances. In June, PEN America analyzed the effects that the Hong Kong Extradition Bill would have on the freedom to publish in the city, concluding “Publishers and booksellers with staff in Hong Kong (or visiting the city) should be very worried.”

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, sfee@pen.org, +1 202 309 8892