Nine Hong Kong pro-democracy activists were sentenced on Wednesday to six to 10 months in prison for participating in last year’s supervised unauthorized gathering for victims of China’s 1989 crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square.
The former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of widespread independence, traditionally holds the biggest June 4 vigil in the world.
But, the last two checkpoints were banned by the police, citing the coronavirus ban on public gatherings. But following massive pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019, the ban has been seen by many activists as an attempt to shut down any displays of defiance towards Beijing. Hong Kong officials denied that was the reason.
Despite the ban, thousands of people lit candles across the city in 2020, and smaller crowds did the same in 2021.
“The defendants ignored and downplayed a real public health crisis,” District Court Judge Amanda Woodcock said.
“They wrongly and arrogantly believed that their common purpose was more important than protecting the community or the public’s right to safety from serious health risk.”
Three other activists received suspended sentences.
All 12 pleaded guilty, including veteran vigilante organizer Albert Ho, former legislator Eddie Choo and Figo Chan, a former leader of the Civil Human Rights Front known for organizing massive pro-democracy rallies.
Last week, police arrested members of the Hong Kong coalition in support of patriotic democratic movements in China, under a national security law imposed by Beijing last year. The police accuse the Alliance of being an “agents of foreign forces”, which the Alliance denies.
Coalition leaders Albert Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan and Chow Hang Tung were charged last week with inciting sabotage. Ho and Lee are already in prison over their role in the 2019 protests. Chow was denied bail.
Police also raided the premises of the closed June 4 Museum dedicated to Tiananmen victims last week.
The museum, which closed on June 2 due to an investigation into its license by the Department of Food and Environmental Sanitation, re-opened online as “8964 Museum” and now operates independently of the Alliance.
(Written by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)