Hong Kong’s annual Tiananmen Massacre vigil symbolised the “struggle of memory against forgetting,” a democrat who pleaded guilty to charges over last year’s unauthorised assembly said in court during his mitigation plea.

Chairperson of the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China Lee Cheuk-yan, standing committee member of the Alliance Simon Leung, liquidator of the Alliance Richard Tsoi; former lawmakers Wu Chi-wai and Leung Yiu-chung appeared in the District Court on Wednesday before Judge Amanda Woodcock.

“For Freedom” sign next to candles in 2020. File Photo: Studio Incendo.

The group of five democrats pleaded guilty earlier in November to holding, inciting others to take part, and themselves taking part in last year’s banned Tiananmen Massacre vigil. The police prohibited the public meeting last year citing Covid-19 health concerns.

When the defendants stepped into the dock, people sitting in the public gallery waved to them and shouted “hang in there.” Some defendants waved back, and Lee held up his fist in the air at one point.

The prosecution handed background information of the defendants, including their criminal records, to the judge after the session began.

Lee Cheuk-yan

The chairperson dismissed his legal representative ahead of the court session, and gave his own submission. Lee began his speech by thanking “the people of Hong Kong who kept the promise of 1989.”

In full: Hong Kong democrat Lee Cheuk-yan’s mitigation plea

“Your honour, the people of Hong Kong who took part needed no person or organisation to incite them,” said Lee. “If there was a provocateur, it is the regime that fired at its own people.”

Lee said, citing Czech writer Milan Kundera, that the Victoria Park candlelight vigil symbolised “the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

On several occasions during his speech, the chairperson choked up in tears. Lee also mentioned his experience of the Tiananmen Massacre, where he was in Beijing when the incident took place.

Lee Cheuk-yan. Photo: Benjamin Yuen/United Social Press.

Lee said he visited students at Tiananmen Square on May 30, 1989, and “heard incessant gunshots and reports that the military’s tanks were entering, bloodily crushing protesters in Chang’an Avenue” on June 4.

The democrat also talked about his background, and said “I have no regrets but am full of gratitude.”

“If I must go to jail to affirm my will, then so be it,” said Lee. The public gallery erupted in applause after the democrat finished his speech, with some court staff members telling them to “quieten down.”

Richard Tsoi

Tsoi’s representative was the first to give mitigation. His representative, barrister Joe Chan, said that Tsoi had obtained two law degrees, and had he chosen to pursue a legal career, Tsoi would have been a senior solicitor or a barrister.

Chan said Tsoi, coming from a low-income background, instead chose to “devote his life” to the underprivileged. The barrister said that the Alliance liquidator was determined against xenophobia, and quit the Democratic Party “to show his will.”

The barrister said that the annual candlelit commemoration was conducted in an “orderly, peaceful, and organised” manner that evening, and that – in previous years – Tsoi “contributed a lot in communicating well with the police and the public.”

Richard Tsoi stepping out from the District Court building after submitting mitigation in court on November 17, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The liquidator’s representative said that he hoped the court will consider a suspended sentence for Tsoi, considering the democrat’s contribution over the years.

Leung Yiu-chung

Leung Yiu-chung’s representative, barrister Lucas Lau, was the second to submit a mitigation statement at court. Lau said that Leung was not involved in the planning of the vigil, and did not make any public speeches that evening.

The barrister also said that the former lawmaker defended the rule of law during his career as a politician, and gave two examples in court.

In 2016, as the second-most senior lawmaker in the Legislative Council (LegCo), Leung gave up chairing the meeting on the presidential election of LegCo, after the debate on the eligilibity of one of the candidates, pro-establishment lawmaker and later president of LegCo Andrew Leung, dragged on.

Lau said that Leung defended the rule of law by giving up his seat as chair, as the then-lawmaker did not want to “take advantage” of his role, and decided to “not exercise his power to reject the pro-government figure.”

The second incident the barrister cited was in 2019, where Leung tried to prevent “young, radical protesters” from storming the LegCo building during the anti-extradition bill protests.

Leung Yiu-chung stepping out from the District Court building after submitting mitigation on November 17, 2021. Photo:; Candice Chau/HKFP.

Lau also said that several pro-establishment figures wrote mitigation letters for the democrat, including former LegCo presidents Andrew Wong and Jasper Tsang, as well as former secretary for transport and housing Anthony Cheung.

According to Lau, Cheung wrote in his mitigation letter that Leung felt “pressured” to take part when other democrats gave speeches at the Water Fountain Plaza outside Victoria Park.

After proceedings were adjourned for 10 minutes to allow Lau to ask Leung for instructions, the barrister told the court that Leung did not want his participation in last year’s vigil to be publicised by the media, as he was attending “by his personal capacity.” Lau then asked the judge to consider a “lenient” punishment.

Simon Leung and Wu Chi-wai

Following Leung Yiu-chung’s mitigation was Simon Leung. The standing committee member’s representative, Kristine Chan, submitted a biography of the democrat to Woodcock, but made no further mitigation statement.

Former lawmaker Wu Chi-wai was also represented by Joe Chan, who said that the democrat, who has a master’s degree in economics, could have had a very successful career in finance, but instead chose to serve the community.

The barrister also said that Wu’s public service career of over 20 years was recognised by the government, as he was awarded a medal of honour in 2007 by then-chief executive Donald Tsang.

District Court. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

“It is quite clear, [Wu] is a very noble, hardworking and mild person,” said Chan.

The barrister said the democrat received “thousands and thousands” of mitigation letters, and that a selection of them were given to the judge. Chan also said that Wu said that he attended the vigil every year “to remind himself the truth of June 4th incident, lest he forget.”

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.

Lee is currently serving a 20-month prison term over other protest-related charges, while Simon Leung and Wu are on remand. Tsoi and Leung Yiu-chung received suspended sentences over other charges.

Sixteen other defendants in the same case, including activists Joshua Wong and Lester Shum were already sentenced in May and September.

Three other defendants, media tycoon Jimmy Lai and vice-chairperson of the Alliance Chow Hang-tung and activist Gwyneth Ho pleaded not guilty earlier in November, the verdict will be handed down in December.

The five will be sentenced on December 13. As the defendants stepped away from the dock, people in the public gallery stood up, and some shouted “mourning is not a crime,” “vindicate June 4th.”

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Candice Chau

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.