Two Hong Kong pro-democracy politicians plan to plead guilty to charges over last year’s banned Tiananmen Massacre vigil, while eight others said they would plea not guilty.
Leaders of Hong Kong Alliance Lee Cheuk-yan, Chow Hang-tung, Richard Tsoi, pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai, former lawmakers “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and Albert Ho were among the 20 activists appearing in front of Chief District Judge Justin Ko at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Friday.
They were charged with incitement to knowingly take part, holding, or knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly on June 4, 2020, to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the 1989 crackdown. The vigil last year was banned by the police citing Covid-19 health concerns.
Before the start of the hearing, supporters clapped as defendants entered the court room. Some defendants waved to the public gallery, and some others shouted political slogans such as “vindicating June 4th,” “end one party rule,” as well as the anti-extradition bill slogan “five demands, not one less.”
Eight defendants planned to plead not guilty, including Hong Kong Alliance Chair Lee, Tsoi, Chow, former lawmaker Wu Chi-wai, and activist Gwyneth Ho. The remaining 10 defendants – including activist Figo Chan, Leung and Lai – have yet to decide their plea.
Pleas and sentencing for Cyd Ho and Yeung were set for September 9 and 10, while the trial for those who plan to plead not guilty will start on November 2 for 10 days.
Those who had yet to decide their plea will appear at court again on July 23.
Trial and sentencing will be conducted in English despite objections from some defendants. Ko said that the defendants’ wishes were not binding to the court, as the court could provide translation services.
Four other defendants of the case – Joshua Wong, Lester Shum, Tiffany Yuen and Jannelle Leung – earlier pleaded guilty in April and were sentenced to four to 10 months behind bars last month. Yuen and Leung had filed an appeal against their sentences.
The prosecution asked for the defendants’ cases to be consolidated, and argued that judge Stanley Chan, who handled sentencing of Wong, Shum, Yuen, and Leung, should be in charge of the trial of the 20 defendants to avoid a disparity in sentencing.
Ko decided that Chan did not have to handle the case as he viewed the case of the four who were sentenced to be different from the current case, despite having the same factual context.
Two other people charged – former legislator Nathan Law and Sunny Cheung – left Hong Kong last year.
The Tiananmen massacre occurred 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.
Chow, vice-chair of the Alliance, spoke to the press ahead of the hearing, and said that she received the notice that she would be charged with inciting others to take part during the banned vigil exactly a year ago.
“Among the 26 people who were still free to commemorate June 4th last year, four of them have been remanded into custody, seven of them have been convicted and serving jail sentences, two have self-exiled, said Chow. “Leaving the nine of us bastards who survived, who could still enjoy some temporary freedom.”
“The reason why I say temporary freedom, it’s because we can see that this regime has used all its means to make us not free even when we’re not in prison – we can’t even mention June 4th,” said Chow.
“This year it [the government] used every means to put out the candlelight commemorating June 4th, and used the Public Order Ordinance and unauthorised assembly as an excuse to label all events related to June 4th as illegal…”
“This is an abuse of power, abusing laws that were meant for dealing with public order. More outrageously, we seem to have entered an age of preventative detention,” said Chow.
Authorities banned the vigil set to be held at Victoria Park last week, citing health concerns for the second successive year. Officers sealed off parts of the park on day of the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, citing risks of an unauthorised assembly.
Chow was arrested last Friday morning for allegedly publicising the banned assembly on social media. She was released on a HK$10,000 bail a day later.