Twelve Hong Kong democrats have been handed suspended and jail sentences after pleading guilty to knowingly participating in, or inciting others to take part in, a banned Tiananmen Massacre vigil last year.

Former vice-chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China Albert Ho, ex-lawmakers Andrew Wan, Cheung Man-kwong, Cyd Ho, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Eddie Chu and Yeung Sum were among the group that appeared at the District Court on Wednesday.

Wan Chai Law Courts
Wai Chai Law Courts Building. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The other defendants included the ex-convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front Figo Chan, Chair of the Labour Party Kwok Wing-kin, former district councillors Chiu Yan-loy and Leung Kwok-wah, and former standing committee member of the Alliance Mak Hoi-wah.

DefendantsIncitementParticipationSuspended?Total sentence
D2: Albert Ho10 months6 monthsNo10 months
D5: Figo Chan10 months6 monthsNo10 months
D6: Andrew Wan10 months6 months No10 months
D8: Cheung Man-kwong8 months4 monthsYes8 months, suspended for 18 months
D9: Kwok Wing-kin8 months4 monthsNo8 months
D11: Chiu Yan-loy8 months4 monthsNo8 months
D12: Mak Hoi-wah8 months4 monthsYes8 months, suspended for 18 months
D14: Leung Kwok-wahn.a.4 monthsYes4 months, suspended for 12 months
D15: Cyd Hon.a.6 monthsNo6 months
D16: Leung Kwok-hungn.a.6 monthsNo6 months
D18: Eddie Chun.a.6 monthsNo6 months
D20: Yeung Sumn.a.6 monthsNo6 months

Ahead of the sentencing, Chiu spoke to the press and said that the defendants had full mental preparation to go to jail: “I hope that everyone can stay safe during the turbulence,” said Chiu, when asked if he had anything to say to Hongkongers.

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

A total of 24 people have been charged over the vigil, which was banned by the police last year citing Covid-19 health concerns. Four other defendants in the case, including activist Joshua Wong, pleaded guilty and were sentenced in May.

‘Deterrent’ sentence

Judge Amanda Woodcock said that when considering the sentence, “a public health crisis must come under the umbrella of public safety as well as the need to protect the rights of others.”

“I am aware that yearly there is an event in Victoria Park to mark June 4th but under the circumstances, the organisers had other alternatives and creative options to consider such as an interactive online vigil… I consider a deterrent and punitive sentence appropriate. Thankfully, no violence erupted within the crowds but the defendants exhibited a blatant disregard of another serious risk to the entire community.”

Judge Amanda Woodcock
Judge Amanda Woodcock. File Photo: Judiciary.

Woodcock said that the defendants “wrongly and arrogantly believed their common purpose was more important than protecting the community or the public’s right to protection from a serious health risk; an invisible risk.”

“When considering an appropriate sentence, I do not consider the common purpose of the assembly nor the politics, beliefs, stance and opinions of any of the defendants,” she added.

‘Hang in there’

As some defendants stepped into the dock, supporters sitting in the public gallery stood up, waved, and shouted the democrats’ names and “hang in there.” The defendants waved back, and some held their fists up in the air.

Albert Ho, Chan, Cyd Ho, Leung Kwok-hung, and Yeung are currently serving jail sentences for other protest-related charges, while Wan and Chu have been remanded in custody over a national security law case. Those already behind bars will serve the new sentence concurrently.

The remaining eight defendants, including Chairperson of the Alliance Lee Cheuk-yan and pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai, will face trial starting from November 1

Members of the League of Social Democrats (LSD) rallied outside the courthouse ahead of the sentencing. Chairperson of the LSD Chan Po-ying said that she believed that Hong Kong people will continue commemorating victims of the Tiananmen Massacre.

“I think in facing such harsh punishment and also political prosecution, I think Hong Kong people will be more careful,” said Chan. “I think they will still keep on to [remember] the June 4th massacre by any means.”

Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director Yamini Mishra condemned the sentencing: “Depressingly, this unjust verdict was entirely expected amid the accelerating collapse of human rights in Hong Kong – exemplified by the recent targeting of the Hong Kong Alliance, the group that had long organized the Tiananmen vigil,” Mishra said in a statement. “It is scandalous that the 12 people formally convicted today have been jailed despite having committed no internationally recognizable crime. Yet there may be worse to come for the organizers of the vigil – some of whom are also facing more serious, yet no less spurious, ‘national security’ charges.”

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.

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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.