Nine of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists have been handed jail sentences of up to 10 months after taking part in last year’s vigil to commemorate the death of China’s 1989 Tiananmen square massacre, which was banned by police.
Three others were given suspended sentences on Wednesday by the court. All of them were among the 12 people who pleaded guilty earlier this month to participating in the vigil.
Hong Kongers hold a large-scale vigil on 4 June annually to commemorate the deaths of those killed in the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown in Beijing.
But authorities had banned the event for the last two consecutive years, citing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the ban, thousands of students and activists gathered to light candles as they raised fears of the ban being part of a larger crackdown on the former British colony.
Amnesty International condemned the verdicts, describing it as “another outrageous attack” on the rights and freedom of the people of Hong Kong, given that those convicted had not committed any internationally recognisable crime.
“Yet there may be worse to come for the organisers of the vigil – some of whom are also facing more serious, yet no less spurious, ‘national security’ charges,” Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director Yamini Mishra said in a statement.
“It is scandalous that the 12 people formally convicted today have been jailed despite having committed no internationally recognizable crime," @Amnesty's Yamini Mishra said in response. pic.twitter.com/N29P1PMQz0
— Hong Kong Free Press HKFP (@hkfp) September 15, 2021
Police arrested more than 20 activists, including leaders of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, after dozens of people gathered and crowds broke through barriers set up around the Victoria Park venue to light candles.
The Hong Kong Alliance group had been organising vigils for 30 years to mourn the deaths of those who died in the crackdown.
Albert Ho, former chairman of Hong Kong Alliance and veteran vigil organiser, was handed a 10-month sentence while he is already serving jail sentences over other unauthorized assemblies.
Former lawmaker Eddie Chu and Figo Chan, a former leader of the now defunct Civil Human Rights Front known for organising large-scale pro-democracy rallies, had pleaded guilty and were given jail terms.
Eight others, including Jimmy Lai, the founder of the defunct Apple Daily newspaper and alliance leader Lee Cheuk-yan, who were charged for attending last year’s vigil, did not plead guilty and will stand trial in November.
During Wednesday’s sentencing, District Court judge Amanda Woodcock said: “The defendants ignored and belittled a genuine public health crisis.”
"They wrongly and arrogantly believed their common purpose was more important than protecting the community or the public’s right to protection from a serious health risk."
In scenes witnessed during the sentencing, supporters of the defendants in the public gallery stood up and waved while shouting “hang in there,” reported Hong Kong Free Press. The defenders waved back and held their fists in the air standing from the dock.
The judgement came after police last week raided the premises of the closed 4th June museum dedicated to the Tiananmen victims. In the same week, the police arrested several members of the Hong Kong Alliance under national security legislation imposed by Beijing last year and accused them of being an "agent of foreign forces.” The charge was denied by the alliance.