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Hong Kong jails Tiananmen Square vigil activists

September 15, 2021

Nine veteran activists have been sentenced to jail for taking part in a vigil for the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre. The case has involved a total of 26 activists who took part.

Chairman of the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China and former Legislative Council member, Lee Cheuk-yan (C), leads a candlelit remembrance
The event was the only one of its kind on Chinese territoryImage: Getty Images/AFP/A. Wallace

A Hong Kong court on Wednesday sentenced nine veteran activists to between six and 16 months imprisonment for last year organizing and participating in a Tiananmen Square vigil that was banned by police.

The June 4 event vigil has been banned over the past two years, with officials citing security fears and the coronavirus pandemic.

Why were they in court?

The nine are part of a group of 12 defendants who earlier this month pleaded guilty to participating in the vigil.

The event was the only large-scale public commemoration on Chinese territory of the 1989 crackdown on student-led protests in Beijing.

While the ban was ostensibly on health grounds because of the coronavirus pandemic, critics claim it was part of a crackdown on the opposition in the semi-autonomous Chinese.

More than a dozen attended the event initially, but they were joined by thousands of others. The crowd broke through barriers around the territory's Victoria Park, lighting candles and singing songs. 

The accused had all been charged with taking part in an unauthorized assembly. Seven of them also face an additional charge of inciting others to take part in the event.

Three of the 12 were given suspended sentences by the court.

Prominent figures accused

Among those sentenced on Wednesday were lawyer Albert Ho and Figo Chan, former leader of the territory's now-defunct Civil Human Rights Front.

Ho was handed terms of 10 months for incitement and six months for attending the vigil. His sentences are to be served concurrently with 18 months he is already serving related to other cases.

Another eight activists who were charged over the vigil pleaded not guilty. They included Jimmy Lai, the founder of the Apple Daily newspaper as well as alliance leader Lee Cheuk-yan.

They are set to stand trial in November.

High-profile pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong and three others had previously pleaded guilty over their roles in the same event. They were sentenced to between four and 10 months in jail earlier this year.

The Chinese government last year imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong. The legislation targets secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion. The law change came after months of anti-government protests in 2019.

More than 100 people have been arrested under the law.

Officials in both Hong Kong and Beijing have faced criticism for removing freedoms that were promised to Hong Kong for 50 years when the former British colony was handed back over to China in 1997.

rc/sms (AFP, AP)