The former head of the group that organised Hong Kong’s Tiananmen vigil has been convicted of breaking aviation regulations by flying a balloon with a banner reading “Release political prisoners.”

Ex-lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, who formerly headed the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, was fined and jailed at Eastern Magistrates’ Court on Thursday for the aviation offence and obstructing police.

august 18 CHRF china extradition
Lee Cheuk-yan. Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

The 65-year-old was convicted on two charges – flying a balloon exceeding two metres in controlled airspace, and obstructing a police officer.

Magistrate Jacky Ip fined him HK$3,500 for violating the aviation order and imposed a prison term of three weeks for obstruction. Two of the three weeks will run consecutively with the current jail term Lee is serving.

Lee was prosecuted along with League of Social Democrats member “the Bull” Tsang Kin-shing after the pair released a white balloon attached to a banner that read “Release political prisoners” on New Year’s Day 2021 near government headquarters.

Tsang pleaded guilty last August to violating the Air Navigation (Hong Kong) Order 1995 and was fined HK$2,500.

On January 1, 2021, the now-disbanded Front organised a vehicle parade in place of its usual march, due to Covid-19 social distancing restrictions. Pro-democracy figures, including former lawmaker “Long hair” Leung Kwok-hung, displayed the banner in various spots around the city, such as the Court of Final Appeal.

‘Tacit understanding’

The defence said Lee might have agreed not to release the balloon after negotiating with the police officer, but the magistrate rejected the argument.

The Eastern Law Courts Building
The Eastern Law Courts Building. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Ip said a video presented during trial showed that Lee held the balloon, pointed at the sky, and said “Release it here.”

The magistrate said Lee did not spread his arms and block the police officer until after handing the rope attached to the balloon and banner to Tsang, which showed a “tacit understanding” between them. He said Lee blocked the police officer so Tsang could release the balloon.

Ip also rejected the defence argument that Lee was only trying to argue with the officer and not obstruct him. He said the defendant blocked the officer from obtaining relevant evidence – the balloon and banner.

Lee has been serving prison time for other protest-related offences. He is also awaiting trial under the national security law, which criminalises subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts.

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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.