Meet Hong Kong's 17-year-old protest leader

image copyrightReuters

He's been described as an "extremist" and a "buffoon" by China, but 17-year-old Joshua Wong is trying to lead his country through a social revolution.

He lives in Hong Kong, an area governed by Britain until 1997, which is now meant to be an autonomous region of China.

But critics say the Chinese government is trying to erode the controls agreed when power was transferred, and many like Joshua are protesting against this.

"People should not be afraid of their government," he says, quoting the movie V for Vendetta, "The government should be afraid of their people."

But his political activism started before this wave of protests.

Aged just 15, he and some friends set up a group called "Scholarism" aimed, he says, at giving students a political voice.

In a recent interview with a Hong Kong newspaper he explained why.

"Even though students are under-age, non-professional and lack social status, they still have a role to play in intervening government policies."

And his movement has had an immediate impact on Hong Kong politics.

In 2012 the group lead a rally of 120,000 students, helping to overturn a pro-China national education programme by occupying the government's headquarters.

Leaders were forced to shelve the plans, designed to teach pupils about the "advanced, selfless and united" Chinese Communist Party.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionIn 2012 students protested against National Education

Now, two years later, he is leading protests against a decision that China chooses any candidate standing for election in Hong Kong.

In 2007 China promised Hong Kong residents they would be granted "universal suffrage" - where everybody has the vote.

This has happened but there's a catch. Voters in the region can only select from a list of candidates selected by leaders in Beijing.

China says granting direct, open voting would cause a "chaotic society".

Wong says Hong Kong is only "semi-democratic", and calls on his fellow students to "care more" about politics.

He believes students are the perfect people to spread that message because they are, by their nature, "idealistic".

His message is clear, he wants a free society where everyone has the chance to nominate and vote for potential candidates to Hong Kong's chief-executive. Simply, he wants democracy.

He says peaceful protests are the ideal, but sometimes it's necessary to resort to "civil disobedience".

So, he and his fellow students are blocking central Hong Kong by refusing to go to lessons and instead, gathering in the streets.

The initial protests were planned by the Occupy Central movement for this week, but their members have joined protests early.

"Rather than encouraging the students to join, we are encouraged by the students to join," said Benny Tai, one of the three main organisers of the Occupy movement.

"We are touched and moved by the work of the students."

Wong has now been officially identified as a threat to the security of the ruling Communist Party.

He was one of 78 people arrested after leading a charge at the government headquarters and he was held, without charge, for more than 40 hours.

image copyrightTwitter @zouxingtong
image captionJoshua Wong was arrested for trying to storm a government building

The government said releasing him would compromise further investigations, but a court disagreed. They said his detention was legal, but holding him for longer was illegal.

Despite letting him go, police have said they still reserve the right to prosecute, or re-arrest him.

With a fear that mobile networks may be shut off, and in another act of defiance, Wong told his supporters to download an app called Firechat.

The app allows users to communicate without internet access, and has been downloaded more than 100,000 times since Sunday.

Despite leaving police custody tired and bruised, Wong has vowed he'll return to his fellow protesters to "join the fight".

And he gave this rallying cry to his supporters: "You have to see every battle as possibly the final battle - only then will you have the determination to fight."

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