A Hong Kong court has issued arrest warrants for fugitive pro-democracy activists Nathan Law and Sunny Cheung, after they failed to attend a hearing on Thursday linked to a banned Tiananmen Massacre vigil held on June 4.

Law and Cheung – who have fled the city in light of the Beijing-imposed national security law – were among 26 pro-democracy figures accused of inciting people to take part or knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly in Victoria Park. Veteran activist Lee Cheuk-yan faces a separate charge of holding such an activity.

Nathan Law Sunny Cheung
Nathan Law (left) and Sunny Cheung (right). Photos: HKFP and Sunny Cheung, via Facebook.

Hong Kong has held an annual commemoration of China’s military crackdown on a student-led movement in Beijing in 1989 which caused hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths. The city is the only place in China to observe such a vigil.

But in June this year police banned the event as a “high-risk activity” which would breach coronavirus public gathering restrictions.

Despite the ban, thousands of Hongkongers gathered at the Causeway Bay park while many others attended community commemorative events elsewhere across the city.

At West Kowloon Court on Thursday, magistrate Peter Law adjourned the cases of Law and Cheung until police had made the arrests while the remaining cases were transferred to the District Court. The 24 defendants who are present – also including media mogul Jimmy Lai, Joshua Wong and Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai – will appear in court again on November 3.

June 4 Lee Cheuk-yan
Lee Cheuk-yan and some defendants protest outside the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on October 15, 2020. screenshot.

Lee Cheuk-yan leads the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which organised the previous vigils. Outside court he and some other defendants held placards and banners reading “Innocent to mourn June 4” and “Oppose political prosecution.”

“Very obviously, the [Department of Justice] wants to transfer the case to the District Court to seek a higher penalty. We insist, as the Hong Kong Alliance, that we have the right to mourn June 4,” Lee told reporters before the hearing.

candle tiananmen vigil june 4 victoria park 2020
Hongkongers gather at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay on June 4, 2020 despite a police ban. Photo: Kaiser/United Social Press.

The two exiled activists also failed to appear for their first summons to court last month. Cheung confirmed that he had left Hong Kong but refused to disclose his whereabouts owing to security and strategic concerns.

Law is based in Britain and is actively involved in lobbying overseas governments to back the city’s pro-democracy movement. He is also reportedly wanted by Hong Kong police, along with five other exiled activists, on suspicion of violating the national security legislation that outlaws secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and “terrorist” acts – which are broadly defined to include damage or disruption to public transport and other infrastructure.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.