Hong Kong – On Thursday, a Hong Kong court convicted three renowned pro-democracy activists of unlawful assembly in connection with a June 4 vigil last year to commemorate Beijing’s 1989 crackdown on protestors in and around Tiananmen Square.
Hong Kong has long staged the world’s biggest annual June 4 vigils, as part of the broad freedoms granted when it reverted to Chinese administration in 1997, but the previous two have been forbidden by authorities, citing coronavirus restrictions.
The decision against media mogul Jimmy Lai, attorney Chow Hang-tung, and former opposition lawmaker Gwyneth Ho is the latest setback for the democratic movement, which has seen dozens of activists detained, imprisoned, or fled since Beijing enacted a broad national security legislation.
Lai, Chow, and Ho have pleaded not guilty to the allegations stemming from the June 4, 2020 gathering.
Prosecutors established “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Lai and Chow incited others to join the vigil, District Court Judge Amanda Woodcock noted in her decision.
Among these attempts was Chow’s request for people to “light candles” around Hong Kong, including the traditional vigil venue in Victoria Park.
Lai was found guilty despite his brief appearance at the park in what Woodcock described as a “planned move to raise support for and publicize the subsequent unlawful assembly,” even though he did not speak.
Ho was convicted of taking part in an unauthorized assembly.
Chow, a former leader of the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, stated during his trial that the yearly vigil was “their right, their liberty.”
Ho previously testified in court that “remembrance is resistance,” and that she traveled to the location to demonstrate the difference between Hong Kong and mainland China, where any commemoration of June 4 is considered taboo and may result in incarceration.
Sixteen more activists are now serving prison terms ranging from four to ten months for the same event.
Following massive pro-democracy rallies in 2019, China enacted a broad national security legislation punishing subversion and secession with up to life in prison.