This article has been updated with the latest information.
Hong Kong police have charged four prominent Hong Kong activists who participated in the city’s annual candlelight vigil to commemorate the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre.
Later on Friday, another nine activists who are members of the vigil organizer were informed that they would also be prosecuted, according to local media RTHK.
This year marked the first time that the annual vigil on June 4 was banned in the former British colony.
Hong Kongers flock to Victoria Park to honor #TiananmenMassacre anniversary with a candle light vigil – despite government’s cancellation of the annual event for the first time in 31 years. pic.twitter.com/8ad4VZTfyp
— The Epoch Times Hong Kong (@EpochTimesHK) June 4, 2020
Organizers had requested that Hongkongers participate in the vigil online or commemorate in different locations spread out across the city in order to comply with the government’s social distancing rules.
However, thousands of Hongkongers chose to defy the police ban and joined members of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China—the organizer of the annual vigil since 1990—at Victoria Park.
On June 11 evening, local police charged three members of the alliance—Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho, and Richard Tsoi, who are the alliance’s chairman, deputy chairman, and secretary, respectively—for inciting “unauthorized assembly.” The fourth activist charged was Jimmy Lai, the founder of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, who promoted the June 4 commemoration vigil on social media.
According to local media, Hong Kong police stated that four people, aged between 52 and 72, would be charged for “inciting others to participate in an unauthorized assembly.” The four will be brought before a court on June 23.
The police added that it did not rule out arresting more people in connection with the vigil.
The Alliance and Apple Daily have since confirmed the charges and the scheduled court date on their Facebook pages.
— HKDC – Hong Kong Democracy Council (@hkdc_us) June 11, 2020
The Alliance issued a statement on June 11 calling the police actions political oppression, reiterating its previous assertion that the police ban was “politically driven” and a demonstration of the further “tightening of Hongkongers’ freedoms” by the local government.
Lee said the local pro-Beijing government, headed by Carrie Lam, intended to show its loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party by slapping “cooked up” charges against them. He added that the police’s actions were aimed to “strike fear” among Hongkongers.
Tsoi questioned the police’s charge of incitement saying that Hong Kong citizens have the right to peaceful protest at Victoria Park.
According to Apple Daily, Lai said that the charge against him was unreasonable since he did not say a word on June 4—he simply lit a candle at the park and then left.
Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), a Hong Kong-based coalition of pro-democracy groups, questioned the Lam government in a Facebook post as to whether it was intending to purge every single person that took part in the vigil this year.
The four were among 15 Hong Kong activists who were arrested and charged in April for taking part in “unlawful assemblies” on either Aug. 18, Oct. 1, or Oct. 20 last year. Government officials from the United States, the UK, and Taiwan expressed concerns about the mass arrests—the biggest crackdown on the city’s anti-CCP, pro-democracy movement since June last year.
Yesterday, the police announced that they had arrested a total of 8,986 Hongkongers since June 9 last year to May 31 this year in connection with protests across the city.
China’s 1989 pro-democracy protests, which the Chinese regime brutally suppressed, are a taboo subject in the mainland. To this day, Beijing has not disclosed how many Chinese protesters were killed during the crackdown.