Over two dozen Hong Kong pro-democracy activists appeared in court on Tuesday to hear charges of participation in an illegal assembly over the June 04 vigil commemorating the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989.
Their supporters meanwhile gathered outside the court and shouted anti-government slogans in support of those accused.
It was the first time the annual Tiananmen vigil had been banned in Hong Kong, with police citing coronavirus restrictions on group gatherings as the reason for not granting permission.
Tens of thousands of Hongkongers defied the ban on rallies on Jun 04 to mark the anniversary of Beijing’s deadly suppression of students pushing for democracy in mainland China.
The annual vigil has been held in Hong Kong for the last three decades and usually attracts huge crowds, but this year’s gathering was banned for the first time with authorities citing coronavirus measures – even though local transmission had largely been halted.
The group of defendants represents a broad section of the movement, from 72-year-old media mogul Jimmy Lai to younger campaigners such as Joshua Wong.
The 26 accused are charged with either participating in or inciting others to take part in an unlawful assembly. The incitement charge carries up to five years in jail.
Activists gathered at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts ahead of the procedural hearing to shout slogans and display banners defending their right to hold a Tiananmen vigil.
“It’s not a crime to mourn Jun 4,” one poster read, while another said: “Oppose political prosecutions, Protest political suppression.”
Veteran activist Lee Cheuk-yan, 63, told the crowd over a loudspeaker: “We must reiterate that mourning Jun 4 is not a crime.”
The vigil, traditionally held in Victoria Park, has taken on particular significance in recent years as the semi-autonomous city chafes under Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
Lee added: “Suppression suffered by activists on Jun 4, 1989, is very similar to what Hong Kong people suffered in the past year.”
Some of those charged face separate prosecutions related to last year’s huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.
China’s leaders have rejected calls to give Hongkongers universal suffrage, and portrayed the protests as a plot by foreigners to destabilise the motherland.
In late June, Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law aimed at stamping out the demonstrations once and for all.
The legislation targets subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion, with sentences including life in prison.
But its broad phrasing – such as a ban on encouraging hatred towards China’s government – has sent fear rippling through a city used to being able to speak its mind. (Source: CNA)