Eight Hong Kong pro-democracy figures including media tycoon Jimmy Lai appeared in court on Monday accused of involvement in last year’s banned Tiananmen Massacre vigil, with some of them saying that mourning the dead should not be a crime.
Appearing in the District Court in front of Judge Amanda Woodcock were Lai; two leaders of the former vigil organiser, the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, Lee Cheuk-yan and Chow Hang-tung; executive committee member of the Alliance Simon Leung, liquidator of the Alliance Richard Tsoi; former lawmakers Wu Chi-wai and Leung Yiu-chung; and activist Gwyneth Ho.
Sixteen people have been brought to court or sentenced to jail over the vigil organised on June 4, 2020, to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the bloody 1989 crackdown by Chinese troops on demonstrators in Beijing. Five of the eight in the latest group pleaded guilty.
The eight are accused of incitement to take part in, holding, or knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly The vigil, once an annual event attracting tens of thousands of Hongkongers, was banned in 2020 and this year on Covid-19 health grounds.
Lee pleaded guilty to inciting others to take part, organising, and taking part himself in the banned assembly. “Mourning June 4th is what should be done: no regrets,” he said.
Tsoi, Leung Yiu-chung and Simon Leung also pleaded guilty to the incitement and participation charges. Wu pleaded guilty to taking part in the rally.
Lai, facing an incitement charge, pleaded not guilty. Chow, accused of inciting others and taking part in the vigil, said she “understood each word of the charge, but did not understand why it was a charge” and pleaded not guilty.
“Mourning needs no approval. I plead not guilty,” she said.
Ho, facing the participation charge, said: “No matter if I understand the charge, I will plead not guilty.”
As some of the defendants stepped into the dock, people in the public gallery waved at them. Lai was sat between two correctional services officers, while Chow and Ho were also separated by two officers.
Chow shouted “Vindicate June 4th!” as she entered the dock, and some people in the public gallery shouted back. Court staff tried to stop them and said that those shouting slogans would be asked to leave the courtroom.
The court session was adjourned for over an hour soon after it began, as some defence counsel said they needed time to get instructions from their clients. As those in remand were leaving the dock, some people shouted “Brother Yan [referring to Lee], hang in there!” and “Chi-wai.”
The mitigation hearing for those who pleaded guilty was fixed for November 12, For the three defendants who pleaded not guilty, the trial will continue on Monday afternoon.
All defendants apart from Richard Tsoi and Leung Yiu-chung were either remanded in custody or already serving jail sentences for other protest-related charges.
Protests outside court
Ahead of the trial, members of the pro-establishment group Politihk Social Strategic demonstrated outside the court with a banner reading: “Stirring up trouble in Hong Kong, colluding with foreign forces, must result in imprisonment.”
Pro-democracy protester “Grandma Wong” was also outside the courthouse, wrapped in a British Union Jack flag and shouting slogans including “Vindicate June 4th!”
The Tiananmen Massacre on June 4, 1989 ended months of student-led demonstrations for democracy and other issues in Beijing and elsewhere in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people died when the People’s Liberation Army was deployed to crack down on the protesters in Beijing.
Hongkongers commemorated the event every year until 2020 with a mass candlelight rally in Victoria Park, the only major commemoration on Chinese territory.
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