Twelve Hong Kong democrats have pleaded guilty to participating or inciting others to participate in the banned Tiananmen Massacre vigil last year. Albert Ho, vice-chairperson of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, gave his own submission in court.

Tiananmen Massacre vigil Victoria Park 2018
Albert Ho. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

People in the public gallery clapped after Ho finished his submission. HKFP shares his words in full.

I am the 2nd Defendant in this case, which is in respect of the candle light vigil held in Victoria Park (“the Park”) on June 4, 2020. As the Deputy Chairperson of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement of China (“the Hong Kong Alliance”) responsible for holding the Assembly, I have pleaded guilty to the charge against me. I think I am obliged to provide a comprehensive narrative of the history of the June 4 candle light vigils during the past 30 years to provide the factual background for your Honour to make the necessary decision.

The relevant history originated in May and June 1989 during the outbreak of the democracy movement in Beijing. At that time, a massive social movement was initiated by the students, who were joined by thousands of citizens, and conducted in a peaceful and rational manner: including various assemblies and marches. The objective of the movement was to protest against corruption and demand for democracy.

The movement was eventually put to an end by the Chinese Government which sent troops into Beijing City on the mid-night of June 4, resulting in the bloody suppression of the people who were then protesting peacefully on the streets in Beijing.

Why did Hong Kong, then a British Colony situated thousands of miles away at the periphery of the Country, get so much involved in the 1989 Democracy Movement? The answer is simple and straightforward: Hong Kong People who were about to reunite with our Mother Country did cherish the aspiration that she would move forward to become a free and democratic Nation. They were also deeply moved by the sincere and altruistic spirit of the Beijing students, so that was why they rose spontaneously to support the Democratic Movement. For the period from May 21 to June 4, many Hong Kong citizens had taken part in at least three massive processions, each participated by over one million people. At the same time, there were hundreds of Hong Kong students and citizens, joined by reporters, personally attending the Tiananmen Square in Beijing to support the Beijing students. The Hong Kong Alliance was spontaneously formed by various local social organizations for the purpose of preparing and organizing the processions and assemblies in Hong Kong. In that period, public events and actions took place nearly every day, the organisers and the participants maintained very good communication and co-operation with the police and there was no worry that there might be any breach of the laws regulating public order and security, leading to prosecution.

Why did the Hong Kong Alliance still continue to commemorate June 4 and demand the vindication of the 1989 Democracy Movement persistently after the suppression of the Movement in 1989? In short, it is due to the moral commitment and conscientious duty willing to be taken up by the Hong Kong People. There are three important pertinent facts:

(I) In 1989, the Hong Kong persons who took to the street to support the Beijing Students’ Movement were motivated by a simple and genuine patriotic spirit and affection for their Chinese compatriots. We felt we were spiritually and emotionally connected with our patriotic brothers and sisters. When the Hong Kong participants personally witnessed, through watching the media broadcasts, the bloody suppression on June 4, they were all sadly outraged. They won’t forget this piece of history, which is why they felt morally obliged to pass on to the younger generations through collective memories, to ensure that our People will not suffer from amnesia about history. On the eve of June 4 during the bloody suppression, many Hong Kong citizens and students were staying together with the crowds of civilians staging peaceful protests on the Beijing streets. They were shocked to see the sudden shooting by the troops at the peaceful and unarmed civilians. Many civilians were shot and collapsed. However instead of dispersing due to fear, the Beijing people stayed together to form a human shield wall to protect the Hongkongers. According to the testimonies made by the Hong Kong students and reporters present at the vicinity, the Beijing citizens cried and urged with tears, begging the Hong Kong People to return to Hong Kong safely and to tell the truth of what had happened that night to the whole world, namely that our government slaughtered her own people. Those people returned to Hong Kong with tears, bearing their conscientious commitment to bring the truth back to Hong Kong in order to relay it to the whole world. How could our People renege on their promise and forget their commitment?

During the last 30 years, we, the Hong Kong People, have delivered on our moral commitment by protecting the historic truth of June 4 and preventing its being distorted, whitewashed or forgotten.

In the Mainland, open discussion of June 4 has always been forbidden in the public arena. Therefore, the historical question of “right” or “wrong” about the 1989 Democracy Movement has been left in the shadow of silence, as if the whole nation is suffering from amnesia about June 4. On the other hand, in this small city of Hong Kong, we speak as the conscience for the whole nation, protect the truth of history and the dignity of the People.

During the past 30 years, the Hong Kong Alliance has thus conscientiously undertaken the role of protecting the truth of June 4, together with Hong Kong residents. For this, we set up the June 4 Museum, organised seminars and different forms of commemorative activities, amongst which the most prominent was the June 4 candle light vigil held annually with the widest support of many participants. According to the public record, for 30 years from 1990 – 2019, the candle light vigil was invariably held on June 4 every year in the Victoria Park even when there was heavy rain or storms. The number of participants every year varied from several tens of thousands to about two hundred thousand. Every time, the vigil was conducted peacefully and orderly, never causing any threat to public safety or disruption of public order.

It has been said that in the recorded history of mankind, there has never been so many people who have persisted for such a long period (i.e. 30 years) in gathering for a public assembly on the same evening (i.e. June 4) every year at the same venue for the purpose of speaking truth to power.

In the year 2020, the government for the first time since 1989 objected to the holding of the June 4 vigil at the Victoria Park for the reason of seeking to prevent the spread of the new Covid- I 9 infection. After failing in the appeal against the police decision, the Executive Committee decided not to organise the candle light vigil in the way it did in the past, simply because we were unable to install the sound system and the big screen together with the stage platform and also could not organise a team of volunteer workers of 300-500 persons, which rendered us unable to exercise effective crowd control for a large-scale mass gathering. The Executive Committee therefore decided to conduct a simple commemorative activity on our own that evening at the Victoria Park in the most symbolic way and connect with the Hong Kong People online in real time. At that time, we anticipated that even though we decided not to hold the massive commemorative event in the Park as usual, there would probably be some people attending the Park to commemorate June 4 on their own. That was exactly what happened on that evening.

There was no effective sound system on that evening, therefore the Executive Committee was unable to directly communicate or interact with most of the persons scattered around the football pitches. Although our Chairperson Lee Cheuk Yan did shout slogans and sang, he did it mainly for the purpose of connecting instantaneously with the People outside the Park or even outside Hong Kong via the internet. Strictly speaking, any interaction between the Executive Committee members of the Hong Kong Alliance with participants inside the Park took place spontaneously without any prior planning.

In conclusion, it is admitted the commemorative activities, or gathering that took place on June 4 was against the Public Order Ordinance due to the failure to obtain a notice of no objection by the Police. (This scheme is presently subject to a constitutional challenge in the Court of Appeal but I do not intend to mount during this hearing). However, we were driven by our consciences and moral commitment to make our best endeavours to maintain this historic tradition of commemorating June 4, remembering the lesson of history and speaking truth to power.

Your Honour, apart from engaging in my legal practice as a lawyer during the last 40 years, I have also devoted myself to a political career (as a legislator) and to the social movement. It is my firm commitment to promote democracy and uphold human rights and the Rule of Law in Hong Kong, as well as in my Mother Country. I had experienced the decolonisation process during the transition period of Hong Kong’s return to her Mother Country. Before and after the June 4 suppression, I as a democracy fighter together with many others, decided not to emigrate and even declined to apply for a British passport under the British Nationality Scheme offered by the retreating colonial power.

Your Honour, on June 4 in the year 2020, we including some Defendants having pleaded guilty to the charge, had only sought to exercise our fundamental freedom to commemorate June 4, as motivated by our conscience and moral courage. We did admit that we had failed to comply with certain legal requirements by failing to obtain a notice of no objection from the Police. In the historical and social background and context as stated above, we engaged in an act of civil disobedience and are willing and prepared to accept the legal consequences arising therefrom. In times to come, even if the Hong Kong Alliance were to be disbanded and the June 4 candle light vigil at Victoria Park banned, the commemorative spirit still survives with the candle light illuminated in the hearts of the Hong Kong People on June 4 every year.

We shall remain positive and hopeful, waiting for change in the times to come, because we believe we are on the right side of history and the development of human history will not stop.

Your Honour, we respect your legal responsibility as the judge to sentence me and others. I am not asking for leniency for the purpose of mitigation, but I do hope and expect that the length of the sentence should be just and fair and proportionate, in the light of the historical background stated above and in light of the fact that the June 4 event was peaceful and orderly. Further, in view the similar nature of the sentences I am presently serving in prison, I would also respectfully ask your Honour to consider applying the totality principle.

Much obliged, your Honour.

Ho Chun Yan.

Albert Ho
Albert Ho. Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

See also: In full: Hong Kong barrister Margaret Ng’s mitigation plea given before she was sentenced over a peaceful 2019 demo

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