A Hong Kong court has sentenced eight democrats to jail for organising, taking part in, or inciting others to participate in last year’s banned Tiananmen Massacre vigil.

Former leaders of the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China – including chairperson Lee Cheuk-yan, vice-chairperson Chow Hang-tung, executive committee member Simon Leung, as well as liquidator Richard Tsoi – were among the eight defendants appearing in the District Court on Monday.

Tiananmen vigil Victoria Park 2020
The annual vigil at Victoria Park on June 4, 2020, to commemorate victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. Photo: May James/HKFP.

The other defendants appearing in front of Judge Amanda Woodcock were Hong Kong media tycoon and founder of the now-defunct pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily Jimmy Lai, former lawmakers Leung Yiu-chung and Wu Chi-wai, and activist Gwyneth Ho.

Each of the defendants were handed jail terms of between four months and two weeks and 14 months behind bars for the various charges – all will serve their sentences concurrently.

Defendant Jail term
Jail term
Jail term
Suspended? Total to be served
D1: Lee Cheuk-yan14 months14 months7 monthsNo14 months
D3: Richard Tsoin.a.12 months7 monthsNo12 months
D4: Jimmy Lain.a.13 months n.a.No13 months
D7: Leung Yiu-chungn.a.9 months4 months, 2 weeksNo9 months
D10: Simon Leung n.a.9 months4 months, 2 weeksNo9 months
D13: Chow Hang-tungn.a.12 months6 monthsNo12 months
D17: Wu Chi-wain.a.n.a.4 months, 2 weeksNo4 months, 2 weeks
D19: Gwyneth Hon.a.n.a.6 monthsNo6 months

All defendants, aside from Chow, Lai, and Ho, pleaded guilty to the charges last month. Lee admitted to organising, inciting, and participating in the banned rally, while Tsoi, Leung Yiu-chung, and Simon Leung pleaded guilty to the incitement and participation charges. Wu admitted to the participation charge.

See also: In full: A ‘pandemic of political repression’ – Hong Kong democrat Chow Hang-tung’s mitigation plea

The remaining three democrats became the only defendants in the case to go through trial. Woodcock convicted the trio last Thursday.

The media tycoon was found guilty of inciting others to participate in the rally, while Ho was convicted of taking part in the unauthorised assembly. Chow was convicted of the incitement and participation charges.

‘Wrong and arrogant’

As the defendants stepped into the courtroom, people stood up and shouted “hang in there.” Some of the defendants waved back.

The judge, when deciding on the punishment, said there was a need for “deterrent” sentences. As some defendants, including Lee and Tsoi, carried out the offence while on court bail, Woodcock also added three months to the starting point of their jail terms, before deducting around 20 per cent for those pleaded guilty.

For Lai and Lee, who are already serving prison terms over three unauthorised assemblies in 2019, they will serve their new jail terms concurrently with the current ones.

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

The judge also said that, while at the time of the banned vigil last year, the level of social unrest had decreased considerably, it had “not disappeared entirely.” She also said that there was another threat in the form of a pandemic in the beginning of 2020, and that it “presented a different set of risk.”

Woodcock added that the group “belittled” a “genuine” public health threat, and had “wrongly and arrogantly” thought the purpose of the commemoration was “more important than protecting the community.”

In her mitigation letter, organiser Chow remained defiant, arguing that “the government’s blatant attempt at erasing history and suppressing activism must be resisted.” Lai, in turn, wrote that if commemorating those who “died because of injustice is a crime, then inflict on me that crime and let me suffer the punishment…”

Meanwhile, Ho said in her statement that the sentencing was a “sentence on every single Hongkonger in Victoria Park on the night of June 4, 2020.”

Ahead of his sentencing, Choi told reporters outside court that “what we have done in the past was done openly under the sun, history will judge our work.”

After the sentences were handed down, someone in the court gallery shouted “mourning is not a crime,” while the others waved at the democrats as they left the dock.

Tiananmen commemorations

Last year’s Tiananmen Massacre vigil was banned for the first time by the police citing Covid-19 health concerns. A total of 24 defendants were brought to the court over the prohibited commemoration, and the group were the last of the defendants to be sentenced.

Richard Tsoi
Liquidator of the Alliance Richard Tsoi outside the District Court on December 13, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

For decades, Hong Kong was one of the few places in greater China where commemorating the Tiananmen Massacre was tolerated. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people died when the People’s Liberation Army were deployed to crack down on protesters in Beijing, ending months of student-led demonstrations in China on June 4, 1989.

Explainer: How Hong Kong sought to erase the memory of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre

The organiser of the annual vigils, the Alliance, had faced increasing pressure from the government, and members voted to disband the group in September. The group itself and several of its members are also facing charges under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

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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.