Yeung Sum, former chairperson of the Democratic Party, made his own mitigation plea on Thursday after pleading guilty to taking part in last year’s banned Tiananmen Massacre vigil.

Yeung Sum meets the press outside the District Court on May 17, 2021. File Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The 73-year-old choked up and wept towards the end of his submission when reciting lyrics from the pro-democracy song Flowers of Freedom. The public gallery erupted in applause after Yeung completed his speech. HKFP shares his words in full.

Your Honour,

This is the fourth time I have been charged for taking part in or [inciting] an [unauthorised] assembly for civil disobedience. The June Fourth massacre is a tragedy that I would never forget in my life. During the pro-democracy movements in Beijing in 1989, numerous students and civilians were shot and killed by the military while fighting for democracy and against corruption Every year on the night of 4th of June, I participate in the June Fourth candlelight vigil organised by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (the “Alliance”). 32 years have passed in a blink of an eye. In the past 32 years, I have adhered to the guidance of my mentor and friend, Mr. Szeto Wah, (or as we call him] Wah Suk. On the nights of 4th of June, we must apply ourselves to fundraise for the Alliance since it would be the main source of funding for the entire year. Indeed, the donations have always been exceptionally generous and enthusiastic on the night of 4th of June every year. This is very moving.

 Your Honour, I believe that the June Fourth Candlelight Vigil has four important significance:- 

(1) Over the past 32 years, the June Fourth Candlelight Vigil gathered the consciousness of citizenship and the sense of identity of the community. Thousands of Hong Kong people have used candlelights, slogans, pro -democracy songs such as Flowers of Freedom, and eulogies to mourn the compatriots who were sacrificed during the 1989 pro -democracy movement. Although the June Fourth Candlelight Vigil was more or less a form of ritual, it indistinctly created beliefs that were commonly shared by the Hong Kong people, such as the vindication of the June Fourth Incident, and the pursuit of democracy and freedom. These beliefs have been held on continuously for the past 32 years. Therefore, the values of valuing human rights, respecting life and pursuing democracy, freedom and justice have been established among Hong Kong citizens. These values and beliefs have formed the sense of identity of the Hong Kong people. A lot of young people have experienced the June Fourth Candlelight Vigil over the years, which has strengthened Hong Kong people’s awareness of the values of democracy, human rights, freedom and justice, and has contributed to the democratic movement in Hong Kong. 

(2) Hong Kong people have been supporting, through the June Fourth Candlelight Vigil, the compatriots and families who suffered or even lost their lives in the 1989 pro-democracy movement for many years. Documentaries and interviews of the pro-democracy activists and Tiananmen mothers would be shown during the Candlelight Vigil every year, in which it has invariably connected the people of Hong Kong and China. The love and support of the Hong Kong people have brought warmth to the hearts of those who lost their friends and family in the movement. Last year, the spokesperson for the Tiananmen Mothers expressed that further donations would not be necessary because those who were young children in 1989 had already grown up and become adults, accomplished their studies and established their own families. This shows that the actual support from the Hong Kong people over the years have indeed brought kindness and care to our compatriots who lost their family and friends in the midst of the harsh winter. 

(3) The June Fourth Candlelight Vigil is an important indicator of “One Country Two Systems.” The June Fourth Candlelight Vigil in Victoria Park for the past 32 years has been the only peaceful memorial gathering that was allowed to be held outside Mainland China. The June Fourth Candlelight Vigil has become an important benchmark for the freedom and high degree of autonomy of Hong Kong. A total ban of the Candlelight Vigil would be a serious setback to the future of the “One Country Two Systems” and the high degree of autonomy of Hong Kong. The June Fourth Candlelight Vigil in the past 32 years have been a peaceful platform for the Hong Kong people to express their condolences for the compatriots who sacrificed themselves in the June Fourth massacre. 

(4) The final point is crucial, that is, refusing to forget, preserving the historical truth and remembrance, so that the truth of the history can be perpetuated and passed on. But the reality is that whoever in power has the right and authority to define and reinterpret history. Therefore, the preservation of the historical truth of the June Fourth massacre is of significance for the times. In fact, when those in power refuse to acknowledge the historical truth, or even reinterpret or rewrite history, the result is that mistakes will repeat themselves. It is only by learning from and reflecting on the history, as well as recognizing the mistakes of the past, that we can resolve the grievances and move forward. The only way to achieve reconciliation and alert those in power is by confronting the historical facts, admitting the historical mistakes, offering apologies and reparations, and redefining the nature of the June Fourth pro-democracy movement, so that the tragedy would not recur. Germany is a fine example: the government has built museums of Nazi history in Berlin to remind the nation of the crimes of the Nazis and not to repeat them. The government made efforts in identifying the Jews and their families who suffered in those years, apologised to and compensated the families of those who lost their lives. This courageous attitude in facing history has made the right wing in Germany less exuberant than that in other parts in the West. 

Your Honour, the June Fourth Candlelight Vigil has been banned by the police for two consecutive years. Hong Kong has gone from One Country Two Systems to One Country One System. The authorities have taken every means to cause several active civic organizations to dissolve, including the Hong Kong Professional Teachers ‘ Union, the Civil Human Rights Front, and maybe the Alliance later on. At present, any groups or organisations with minimal dissenting voices may be warned and alerted by the authorities or be cut off from any other working associations. In terms of the political system, after being “perfected” by the NPC, the Legislative Council would be wholly controlled by the patriots and the election for the new Legislative Council would be one that is not open, fair nor competitive. This is a major regression of democracy in Hong Kong. Your Honour, Hong Kong would become silent since dissenting voices would be banned. Such a monolithic style is at odds with our traditionally diverse and open culture. 

Your Honour, it is often said that “ruling a big country is like cooking a small dish” (治大國如熟小鮮), and “if you win the hearts of the people, then you win the world” (得民心,得天下). Instead, the authority opted for solipsism (唯我主義) and used its powers to the fullest regardless of the reactions and acceptance of the Hong Kong people. If the authority cannot even accept different opinions and expel the dissidents outside the system, how could the authorities unite people from all walks of life? How could the authorities gain the support of the general public? The number of emigrants in recent years is already a wake-up call. Hong Kong is a society with an ageing population, with the lowest fertility rate in the world. Those in power must not turn a blind eye to that. 

Your Honour, the fact that the pro-democrats criticize the government does not mean that they raise their concerns and criticisms to the authorities only because they care about society, oppose the government, or are attempting to incite hatred against the government. As the saying goes, “Love well, Whip well.” (愛之深,責之切)The more you love a person, the more concerned you are in disciplining that person for any misconduct. Similarly, when we mourn for June Fourth with candlelight, we do it for the sake of justice and humanity, and it has nothing to do with opposing the Central authorities or causing disorder in the society of Hong Kong (反中亂港). 

Your Honour, I sincerely hope that the authorities can think thoroughly and carefully again and not go beyond the limit. Respect and preserve the variety and open culture in Hong Kong, let voices be heard, tolerate dissidents, maintain harmony in diversity, and open up, democratising the political system so that the Hong Kong people can participate fairly. These are the ways to unite people from different walks of life. 

Your Honour, Hong Kong is my beloved home. The objective of founding the party was to build a democratic, free, and fair society under Chinese sovereignty. I cannot remain silent when democracy and freedom in Hong Kong are being deprived. I will continue to fight for democracy and freedom by peaceful, rational, and non-violent means. I also take this opportunity to call on the people of Hong Kong, in the midst of a political downturn, to hold onto their beliefs, to stand firm in their positions, to confront lies with the truth, and to participate actively in civil society. At this time, the civil society may scatter and disperse as individuals to do what one can. The pro-democratic parties should root in the local community, serve the local residents, strengthen civil society, encourage movements and activities organised by the local organisations and advocacy groups, stand with the people, speak for the people, and monitor and check the government. The key is to be people – oriented. Do not give up the basic rights of Hong Kong citizens, and fight for democracy, freedom, rule of law and justice. 

Your Honour, the June Fourth Candlelight Vigil may be forbidden from this day, but the flower of freedom, however the storm is strong, still blooms; but we have a dream, that never dies, just remember, Hong Kong people will continue to pursue the dream of democracy and freedom. 

Your Honour, I sincerely and genuinely believe that peaceful assembly and procession are the basic rights of Hong Kong people which are constitutionally protected. The purpose of my fourth civil disobedience is to protest against the Public Order Ordinance and the police’s unjustified prohibition to the Hong Kong people’s rights to peaceful assembly and procession. As pointed out by the late political scientist John Rawls (1921-2002), civil disobedience is the nonviolent and conscientious breach of law done with the aim of bringing about justice in laws. For the sake of upholding the basic rights of Hong Kong people, I have no regrets, even if I lose my freedom. 

Your Honour, I breached the Public Order Ordinance and I plead guilty to the charge. But I do not admit any fault, nor do I plead for mercy. These are my submissions. Thank you, Your Honour.

See also: In full: ‘Speaking truth to power’: Tiananmen Massacre Alliance vice-chair Albert Ho’s mitigation plea

Yeung Sum. Photo: CC BY 2.0.

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