Lee Cheuk-yan, former chairperson of the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, was among 24 democrats charged over last year’s banned Tiananmen Massacre vigil. The veteran democrat and former lawmaker pleaded guilty to holding, inciting others to take part, and participating in the unauthorised vigil.

Lee delivered his own mitigation below in the District Court before Judge Amanda Woodcock on Wednesday.

Lee Cheuk-yan
Lee Cheuk-yan. File Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Your Honour,

I appreciate the opportunity to petition for my case.

To begin, I want to thank the people of Hong Kong who kept the promise of 1989, all 31 years ago. In the face of suppression, they persisted, honouring the memory of the June Fourth Massacre in Victoria Park with their candlelight. Your Honour, the people of Hong Kong who took part needed no person or organisation to incite them. If there was a provocateur, it is the regime that fired at its own people.

For 31 years, our unyielding memory and unrelenting conscience drove us to keep the promise, persisted in honouring their memory, demand truth and accountability, and carry on the pursuit of freedom and democracy of the Chinese people.

To honour the memory of the June Fourth Massacre is a long-held sentiment of mine. As Milan Kundera wrote in Kniha smíchu a zapomnění, “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

The Communist Party of China forcefully censors any mention of “June Fourth” on social media and public space. The Chinese people responded by promoting the June 4th Museum in the Mainland by twisting it to May 35th Museum to defend the memory of the Massacre. This is the struggle of memory against forgetting, as symbolised by the candlelight vigil in Victoria Park.

The generation of the people of Hong Kong who witnessed the 1989 Movement intensely loved their nation, its people and hoped for realisation of democracy in China. Our emotions were intertwined with the students and citizens who fought for democracy in the Tiananmen Square. We assembled, marched, sat in, made donations in hope of the triumph of democracy.

But at the sound of the first gunshot, we wept and despaired. Hong Kong would never be the same. The people of Hong Kong moved on from political apathy to activism for the democratic future of Hong Kong, wishing that the dream of freedom and democracy would one day by enjoyed by our compatriots in the Mainland.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (Hong Kong Alliance) was born out of the efforts to unite the people of Hong Kong across the political spectrum and support the 1989 Democracy Movement.

Then, I was a union organiser and marshalled many million-strong peaceful marches in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Alliance was tasked with organising a delegation to bring donations in support of the protesters in the Tiananmen Square. Four of us arrived at the Square on 30 May 1989 to visit the autonomous groups of students, workers and intellectuals.

On the night of June 4, I heard incessant gunshots and reports that the tanks were entering, bloodily crushing protesters in Chang’an Avenue. Suddenly, the lights went off in the Square. We drown ourselves in tears, not knowing if anyone survived. As dawn broke, we watched on as one after another casualties were carted away. We had no idea how many were hurt and killed. It was a night of immense devastation that I can never forget.

On 5 June 1989, I boarded the flight carrying Hong Kong students and reporters home. But before we took off, the police took me away and interrogated me for three days. Fortunately, the people of Hong Kong petitioned for my freedom, and I was released on June 8.

I thanked God in my prayers, dedicated myself to be His instrument of Justice, and committed my life to the struggle for democracy to Hong Kong and China. This is my pledge to the people of Hong Kong who rescued me and the people of Beijing who implored us to tell the truth of what happened in the Square to the world.

Since then, I have always engaged in the mission of the Hong Kong Alliance and attended the June Fourth candlelight vigil every year until this. In prison, I continued to honour their memory by fasting for a day and by a lit match.

Your Honour, in this monumental era, our collective will shaped the development and opened the way forward for Hong Kong and China. The memory of 1989 shook not only our generation. Many young people were inspired by their participation in the annual vigil and devoted themselves to the social movement.

Influenced by localist ideas, some question the principles of the Hong Kong Alliance, but we all recognise the necessity to uncover the truth of and demand accountability for the June Fourth Massacre. The participation of the youth explains why the attendance of the vigil rose to the hundred thousand in the past decade.

The Police arbitrarily arrests and prosecutes protestors in the name of “incitement”, which fundamentally threatens the freedom of expression and assembly of the people under the Basic Law and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Indeed, the state would claim that no freedom is absolute, that it must be balanced against the liberty of others and public safety. In reality, the freedom of expression and assembly of the people of Hong Kong are deprived by a regime, whose power to suppress our right to assemble knows no bounds. There is no balance to speak of.

Recently, the Secretary for Security accused that the publications sent to inmates incite anti-social sentiments. With this vague and arbitrary allegation, the power of censorship is made absolute, and the inmates’ right to information is deprived.

The newly appointed Commissioner of Customs and Excise claimed it must guard against the “soft resistance” of books, magazines and daily necessities that disseminate messages that threaten national security. Again, a vague and arbitrary allegation was used to suppress the people’s rightful freedom to access information.

There were numerous examples. Who will keep the power of the regime in check? Your Honour, the state extends its powers without limit. The final gatekeeper is the court. The people’s final hope is that the court will move the scales of justice from one-sided favour for the regime back to a place of balance.

Your Honour, I could never have expected that the Police would argue for our side. On October 2, the International Day of Non-violence, the Police tweeted in praise of the non-violent struggle of Mahatma Gandhi and quoted him: “Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”

The Police must have forgotten that Gandhi was a pioneer of civil disobedience, achieving justice through breaking the law. If the Police endorses the non-violent struggle led by Gandhi, why should it not respect the right of the people of Hong Kong to honour the memory of the June Fourth Massacre through a peaceful, non-violent assembly?

For 30 odd years, the candlelight of the June Fourth vigil symbolised the practice of peaceful, non-violent resistance. Why should the Police prohibit the assembly and prosecute its participants? We are all followers of Gandhi’s idea of non-violent struggle, hoping to bring democratic reforms to Hong Kong. Now that I am imprisoned as Gandhi was, I will learn to be as fearless as Gandhi was.

I am proud to be a Hongkonger. For 32 years, we have marched together in the fight to bring justice to those who put their lives on the line on 4 June 1989, and in the struggle for democracy.

Despite setbacks, we are steadfast in our belief that the universal values of freedom, the rule of law, human rights and democracy that we have been struggling for will one day take root in Hong Kong and China. And on that day, we will be able to console the souls who came before us.

Finally, about my background. I have no regrets but am full of gratitude. I thank the Lord for the opportunity to dedicate myself to the labour movement since graduating from the University of Hong Kong, built the 30-year-old Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions. I believe only when workers joined hands and organised independent unions can they rectify social injustices and transform their destiny.

I also thank the support the citizens of Hong Kong for entrusting me to be their representative in the legislature for 20 years, advocating for labour rights, improving livelihood, speaking up for the vulnerable and fighting for democracy. I am also a member of the Standing Committee of the Hong Kong Alliance for 32 years, struggling for a democratic China. If I must go to jail to affirm my will, then so be it.

Thank you, Your Honour.

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