Hong Kong activists Joshua Wong and Lester Shum have been sentenced to jail for participating in a banned candlelit vigil to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre.

Judge Stanley Chan sentenced Wong, who was already serving a 13.5-month jail term for organising and inciting another unauthorised assembly in 2019, to 10 months behind bars.

Hong Kong Alliance
The Alliance outside the District Court on May 5, 2021 after four activists, including Joshua Wong, were sentenced to jail for taking part in the banned Tiananmen Massacre vigil last year. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

District councillor Shum was handed a six month sentence. District councillors Tiffany Yuen and Jannelle Leung were handed four months behind bars.

The group pleaded guilty at the District Court last Friday to knowingly taking part in the unauthorised assembly last year, which was banned by the police citing coronavirus fears.

Joshua Wong
Joshua Wong. File photo: Studio Incendo.

The session was delayed by at least 20 minutes as Wong’s prison van was stuck in traffic. After he arrived, he waved to supporters.

Ahead of sentencing, Judge Chan said that the freedom of assembly was “not unlimited.” He added that it was a “wise decision” for the defendants to plead guilty given the strength of the evidence.

Just before Chan handed down Leung’s jail term, a woman sitting in the court shouted “objection.” Chan then proceeded to tell the woman “not to destroy or make a mockery of the rule of law.”

Wong’s jail term will be served consecutively to the four months he received for taking part in another unauthorised assembly and violating an anti-mask law during a demonstration in October 2019.

Chan said that the sentence had to “reflect the element of deterrence,” and that the defendants showed “no signs of remorse” as all of them had their own political beliefs.

All four defendants received a one-third deduction in their jail terms as they pleaded guilty.

2021 vigil banned

Last year, 24 pro-democracy activists were charged with either holding, participating in or inciting others to take part in the unauthorised assembly on June 4, 2020, to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the 1989 crackdown.

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Among the group was media tycoon Jimmy Lai, veteran activists including “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Cyd Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan and Chow Hang-tung. They will appear in the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on June 11.

tiananmen massacre vigil 31st 2020 june 4 victoria park
June 4, 2020. File Photo: Studio Incendo.

The Tiananmen Massacre happened on June 4, 1989, ending months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people died when the People’s Liberation Army was deployed to crack down on protesters in Beijing.

The vigil set for this year has also been effectively banned on health grounds.

Speaking outside court, Chow Hang-tung – vice-chair of the Alliance, which organises the annual vigil – urged people to remember the 1989 massacre publicly.

Chow Hang-tung
Chow Hang-tung, vice-chair of the Alliance. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

She said the police have a legal duty to enable protest: “They just give you a blanket ban… that’s not right at all and not in accordance with international human rights principles. This year, June 4 is coming again – we have been lighting candles in Victoria Park for 31 years and we will continue.”

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.