Twenty-four pro-democracy Hong Kong activists appeared in court on Friday to answer charges over holding a candlelight vigil last year on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 despite a government ban on gatherings.
Hong Kong residents traditionally hold the largest vigil in the world each year to mark the anniversary of China’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, but authorities banned it in 2020 citing the risk of spreading COVID-19 infections as the reason.
Despite the ban, thousands took to the streets in June of last year to stage candlelight rallies in the former British colony, which was promised wide-ranging freedoms when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, including rights of expression and assembly.
Among those who appeared on court on Friday were media tycoon and staunch Beijing critic Jimmy Lai, 73, and prominent democracy activist Joshua Wong, 24. Both were already being held in prison but were temporarily released in order to attend the hearing.
Lai is being held pending a bail hearing after he became the city’s most high-profile person to be charged under a controversial national security law. Wong is serving more than 13 months related to an unlawful anti-government rally in 2019.
Five of the group, including Wong, indicated they planned to plead guilty to charges related to illegal assembly and their case was adjourned to Apr 30. The rest were expected to plead not guilty and their case was adjourned to Jun 11.
Outside the court, more than a dozen supporters shouted slogans and held up placards that read, “Against political suppression” and “Innocent to mourn Jun 4”.
Last year’s Jun 4 anniversary came nearly four weeks before Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong that Western governments and rights groups have widely condemned as a tool to crush freedoms in the global financial hub.
Hong Kong and Chinese authorities reject that and say the legislation was necessary to restore stability after a year of sometimes violent anti-China and anti-government demonstrations.
China has never provided a full account of the 1989 violence. The death toll given by officials days later was about 300, most of them soldiers, but rights groups and witnesses say thousands of people may have perished. (Source: CNA)