Three Hong Kong democrats who deny involvement in last year’s banned Tiananmen Massacre vigil were not entitled to challenge the police ban on the event, which was justified on health grounds, a prosecutor told a court as their trial entered its final stages.
Pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai, vice-chairperson of the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China Chow Hang-tung, and activist Gwyneth Ho appeared in the District Court on Thursday in front of Judge Amanda Woodcock.
They have pleaded not guilty to inciting others to participate in, or themselves taking part in, an unauthorised assembly. The police banned last year’s vigil in Victoria Park marking the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, citing Covid-19 health concerns.
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.
As the trial entered its eighth day, the prosecution, led by Senior Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Laura Ng, gave their final submissions in court.
‘Not entitled to challenge’
During the trial, the defence attempted to challenge the merit and validity of the police ban, which the prosecutor said they were not entitled to do.
Ng said only the organiser of a banned event, which was the Alliance and Lee Cheuk-yan in this case, could seek to appeal the decision. Lee had previously pleaded guilty to charges related to the event.
“None of these defendants except Mr. Lee…is entitled to put their case to the appeal board, none of the defendants was entitled to the appeal proceedings. Why then are they allowed to put forward that in a criminal court?” said Ng.
The prosecution also said the police decision to ban the vigil was justified. Superintendent Josephine Chow testified last week that she made the decision in the interests of public order, public safety and protecting the rights of others.
Ng said on Thursday that public health can fall under the umbrella of public safety and the interests of others, and that “in a pandemic, a lot of our constitutionally protected rights are interfered [with],” but no one would say that it was unreasonable.
The prosecutor said the government had decided to reduce the number of people allowed in a group gathering from eight to four around June last year, and that “if the law says that we cannot gather in a group of eight, on what basis can [the superintendent] override the administration’s decision?”
The police officer also said last week that advice at the time from Department of Health expert Chen Hong was that a mass gathering was not recommended.
“I mean, in the view of such unchallenged expert advice, how can [the police officer] allow a meeting that cannot take place safely in Victoria Park?” said Ng. “…So putting all together, it’s a prudent decision to ban the meeting.”
Incitement charge against Lai
Ng said Lai, who faces an incitement charge, had a “clear political agenda” when he met members of the Alliance at the Water Fountain plaza outside Victoria Park at around 6:30 p.m. on the night of the vigil.
The prosecutor said “prominent figures” including politicians and members of the Alliance lit candles and shouted slogans at the plaza.
“Therefore the message is loud and clear: let’s get to Victoria Park together, let’s show the world our will, let’s resist together,” said Ng.
Charges against Chow
The prosecutor said Chow, who faces one incitement and one participation charge, “showed her support and encouragement” for Lee’s speech at the plaza “by standing together with [Lee], holding candles, and chanting political slogans together.”
Chow testified earlier that she was attending a gathering for “friends only” on June 4, 2020. The prosecutor said the vigil was clearly an unauthorised assembly.
Among the evidence shown in court, Chow was seen pulling away mills [crowd control] barriers. The prosecutor said this showed that the vigil was not a private gathering.
“If it was a members-and-friends-only gathering, then there was no need to pull away the mills barriers,” the prosecutor argued. “Bearing in mind that the central lawn was then also opened.”
Ng said Lee had stated in an interview after the vigil was banned that members of the Alliance would still go to Victoria Park that evening, and never told the public that it was a friends-only gathering.
The prosecutor said people in the park that evening “acted as though they were attending the meeting,” as the crowds fell silent after Lee announced a minute’s silence. People were singing songs and chanting slogans.
“So it [was clearly] an unauthorised meeting mourning the June 4th incident,” Ng said, adding that Lee also started chanting political slogans, including ones opposing the implementation of the planned national security law which came into force on June 30.
Ng said Chow “all along was in the park next to [Lee],” and took part in every programme in the vigil.
Participation charge against Ho
The prosecutor said she was sure that because Ho, who faces a participation charge, was a reporter and was “very vigilant of her own rights,” she would search her memory of what she had done after she was charged.
“And yet she happens to have no recollection of the most important details,” said Ng. “…I suggest she deliberately avoids these questions.”
Ng also said the the proximity of Ho’s group to Lee’s group on the park football pitch was not a coincidence. The activist had testified that she was not at the park to attend the vigil, but to protest at the police ban on her own accord.
The prosecution on Thursday said Ho’s Facebook post on that evening “showed the opposite.”
“She could have chosen a lot of photos. Out of all she published a photo of herself holding a candle and flowers. It seems to send out a message that she was protecting the candlelight, because the candlelight should be there to show the people’s views,” said Ng.
Lai’s counsel gave his final submission in court on Thursday afternoon. The trio will appear in court again on Friday for closing defence arguments.
Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit, Hong Kong Free Press is #PressingOn with impartial, award-winning, frontline coverage.