Three former leaders of the defunct group behind Hong Kong’s annual Tiananmen vigils have appeared in court for the first time in more than two months after Covid-19 forced prisons to lock down and the suspension of most hearings.

Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho and Chow Hang-tung, ex-leaders of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, appeared in front of Principal Magistrate Peter Law at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts over a legal dispute.

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Photo: Todd R. Darling/HKFP.

Monday was the first court appearance for the trio since the Correctional Services Department imposed a “cell-lockdown” at detention centres in February, when the city was facing battling its fifth wave of Covid-19. Local media reported that Lee and Ho were both infected while in custody.

On March 4, the Judiciary announced the suspension of most court cases, meaning that the alliance’s scheduled court appearances were adjourned. The suspension was lifted on April 11.

Lee, the former chairperson of the alliance, and Ho and Chow, who were the ex-vice chairpersons of the group, were charged under the Beijing-imposed national security law for alleged “incitement to subversion.”

The alliance, which disbanded in September last year following a members’ vote, was also charged under the sweeping legislation. As well as subversion, the national security law also criminalised secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The alliance is being represented by the Official Receiver, a government body, in court.

West Kowloon Law Courts Building
West Kowloon Law Courts Building. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Law, one of the city’s handpicked national security judges, rejected an application from the defence upon hearing submissions from Chow and the prosecution.

The court is expected to handle committal proceedings for the group on Tuesday. The prosecution has applied to transfer the case to the Court of First Instance, where the maximum penalty for incitement to subversion is 10 years in prison.

Under reporting restrictions on committal proceedings, written and broadcast reports are limited to only including the name of the defendants, magistrates, and lawyers, the alleged offence, the court’s decision, whether legal aid was granted, and future court dates.

The alliance organised Hong Kong’s annual candlelight vigils commemorating victims of the Tiananmen crackdown, which occurred on June 4, 1989, ending months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, died when the People’s Liberation Army cracked down on protesters in Beijing.

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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.