(New York, NY) — PEN America today said the arrest of Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong—just hours after his participation in a PEN America panel discussion on free expression—is a clear escalation by authorities to intimidate pro-democracy activists and stifle free expression within the territory. PEN America also condemns the simultaneous arrest of 74-year-old activist Koo Sze-Yiu. Both are being charged for participating in a protest that took place last year.

“Joshua has long stood as a symbol of the broad public movement for democracy and freedom in Hong Kong. Any time he is targeted, it is the authorities sending a message to the public: don’t protest, don’t speak out, don’t push back,” said James Tager, deputy director of free expression research and policy at PEN America. “Arresting him and Koo Sze-Yiu for a protest that happened a year ago is a clear signal that Hong Kong authorities privilege politics and their own power over the rule of law.”

Police arrested Wong on Thursday after he reported to the city’s central police station as part of a regular check-in. Wong is facing charges related to his participation in an October 2019 protest, as well as charges that he violated a government ban on wearing a mask during that protest. He has since been released on bail.

“It is distressing and painful to see Hong Kong’s criminal justice system again employed as a political cudgel against protesters and activists,” PEN America’s Tager said. “This newest criminal case is another demonstration of how Hong Kongers’ right to protest is under existential threat.”

Wong’s arrest comes mere hours after his appearance at a PEN America-sponsored event, a digital conversation with Black Lives Matter activist Patrisse Cullors and writer Baratunde Thurston, discussing Cullors’ new book on youth participation in protest movements.

Wong and Koo’s arrests comes amidst a larger crackdown on freedom of expression within Hong Kong, enabled in part by the city’s new national security law. The legislation, which criminalizes acts of protest against Beijing and severely weakens guarantees of freedom of expression within the city under vaguely-defined “national security” grounds, has ignited widespread fears that Hong Kongers’ civic freedoms are being erased.