1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Hong Kong activists appear in court over Tiananmen vigil 

July 13, 2020

Pro-democracy activists have appeared in Hong Kong court over a vigil to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. The authorities previously banned the gathering, citing the coronavirus as a reason. 

Vigil marking the Tienanmen massacer
Image: Reuters/T. Siu

A group of thirteen Hong Kong activists appeared in court on Monday to face charges of inciting others to attend an unlawful assembly. 

An annual vigil to remember the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre has been held in Hong Kong's Victoria Park for the past three decades.  

The event usually attracts huge crowds, but this year's gathering was banned for the first time with authorities citing coronavirus measures as the reason. At the time, the transmission of the virus was believed to have largely been halted. 

Read more: Opinion: Hong Kong is lost

Despite the ban, thousands turned out to hold candles for the June 4 vigil, both in their neighborhoods and in the park. The activists are facing the charges over the event amid concerns linked with the new national security law imposed by Beijing.

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai and other Hong Kong defendants entering the courtroom
The 13 activists face charges related to the Tiananmen massacre vigilImage: Reuters/T. Siu

Tiananmen massacre the 'real incitement'

The group charged with inciting others to flout the ban includes Lee Cheuk-Yan, who chairs the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic and Democratic Movements of China. The alliance has organized vigils on an annual basis to remember the bloody 1989 crackdown on students pushing for democratic reforms. Estimates of the death toll resulting from the Tiananmen Square crackdown vary from an official government figure of 241 into the thousands. 

Read more: German minister defends China ties

"Today we are supposedly on trial, but we believe it is the Hong Kong government, the police that should be put on trial and will be put on trial because of the suppression of our right to mourn on June 4,'' said Lee. 

"This is political persecution," he told the court. "The real incitement is the massacre conducted by the Chinese Communist Party 31 years ago." 

New law raises fears beyond Hong Kong

Some of those charged on Monday face separate prosecutions related to last year's huge and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests. 

Also among the defendants is Jimmy Lai, founder of the Apple Daily newspaper, and the activists and prominent alliance members Richard Tsoi and Albert Ho. 

The new security law in Hong Kong hasdrawn international condemnation for jeopardizing the territory's civil liberties enshrined under the "one country, two systems" framework, including freedom of speech and assembly. 

The law targets subversion, secession, terrorism, and foreign collusion, with tough sentences that include life in prison. 

The legislation's broad phrasing — such as a ban on encouraging hatred towards China's government — has raised fears that it will be used to crush dissent as is the case with similar laws on the mainland. 

rc/dj (AFP, AP)