Nine Hong Kong pro-democracy activists were given jail sentences ranging from six to 10 months on Sept. 15 after pleading guilty to participating in a candlelight vigil in 2020 to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Another three people received suspended sentences for the same charge of having participated in the unauthorized assembly in the city’s Victoria Park on June 4, 2020.
The normally annual event was banned in 2020 and 2021 by Hong Kong police, who cited concerns about the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
Despite this, thousands of locals defied the ban and gathered for the 2020 vigil to commemorate the events of June 3 and 4, 1989, which saw potentially hundreds or even thousands of innocent lives lost after the CCP ordered its troops to open fire on pro-democracy activists at Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
On Sept. 9, the 12 pro-democracy activists pleaded guilty to having participated in the 2020 vigil. Seven of them were given an additional charge of having incited others to join the event.
“The defendants ignored and belittled a genuine public health crisis,” District Court Judge Amanda Woodcock said on Sept. 15, Reuters reported.
“They wrongly and arrogantly believed their common purpose was more important than protecting the community or the public’s right to protection from a serious health risk.”
She said that while she was aware of the June 4 event, there were “other alternatives and creative options to consider, such as an interactive online vigil” that organizers could have considered, the Hong Kong Free Press reported.
“I consider a deterrent and punitive sentence appropriate,” she said.
Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director Yamini Mishra condemned the sentencing of the 12 Hongkongers as “another outrageous attack on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”
She said in a statement that the 12 had “committed no internationally recognizable crime.”
“There may be worse to come for the organizers of the vigil—some of whom are also facing more serious, yet no less spurious, ‘national security’ charges,” she said.
“Despite the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities’ relentless attempts to erase history by jailing people who peacefully light a candle for the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown, the continued support for the June Fourth movement in Hong Kong and around the world shows that this atrocity will never be forgotten.”
Hong Kong’s candlelight vigil is renowned for being the only large-scale public gathering on Chinese soil to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre, and it’s traditionally the largest vigil of its kind in the world.
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China has organized the annual vigil since 1990.
Albert Ho, its former vice chairman, was dealt a total of 10 months in jail—six months for attending the vigil, and 10 months for incitement.
Two others—Figo Chan, former leader of the Civil Human Rights Front, and Andrew Wan, a former lawmaker in the Democratic Party—received similar sentences.
Both Ho and Chan are already serving 18 months related to other cases related to other assemblies in 2019 and will serve the new sentences concurrently.
Other former lawmakers, including Eddie Chu, Yeung Sum, Leung Kwok-hung, and Cyd Ho, were sentenced to six months in jail over the participation charge.
Kwok Wing-kin, the chairman of the Labour Party, and Chiu Yan-loy, a former district councilor and a former standing committee member of the Hong Kong Alliance, were both sentenced to four months for participation and eight months for incitement, for a total of eight months.
Three former standing committee members of the Hong Kong Alliance received suspended sentences. Cheung Man-Kwong and Mak Hoi-wah received four months for participation and eight months for incitement. Each will serve a total of eight months in jail, suspended for 18 months. Leung Kwok-wah received four months, suspended for 12 months, for having participated.
Last week, police arrested four key members of the Hong Kong Alliance under the draconian national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020.
Police accuse the Hong Kong Alliance of being an “agent of foreign forces,” which it denies.
The 12 who were dealt sentences on Sept. 15 were among a total of 26 activists charged in connection with the candlelight vigil in 2020. Nathan Law and Sunny Cheung fled the city before they were summoned to court in September 2020.
Other prominent young activists, Joshua Wong, Lester Shum, Tiffany Yuen, and Janelle Leung, were given jail terms in April after they pleaded guilty to unlawful assembly charges. In May, Wong was sentenced to an additional 10 months in jail.
Another eight defendants who face charges will face trial in November. They have pleaded not guilty.
Frank Fang contributed to this report.