Nine Hong Kong opposition activists and former politicians have been jailed for up to 10 months over their roles in last year’s banned Tiananmen Square vigil, while three others were given suspended sentences.
Wednesday’s ruling at the District Court marked the second sentence imposed on organisers and participants in the annual candlelight event at Victoria Park.
Police had banned last year’s event for the first time in over three decades, citing public health concerns tied to the coronavirus pandemic. This year’s vigil was banned on the same grounds.
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In her sentencing remarks, Judge Amanda Woodcock said the organisers ought to have come up with an alternative to the event, such as an interactive online vigil, given the risk of spreading the virus at a mass assembly.
She also pushed back against accusations that the government was using health concerns as a pretext for protest bans that were really aimed at silencing dissent.
“The social-distancing measures adopted to combat this pandemic were not designed to surreptitiously prevent people gathering for a common purpose or as a tool of suppression as suggested, but to specifically stop people gathering in groups to prevent the transmission of Covid-19,” Woodcock said.
“The defendants ignored and belittled a genuine public health crisis. They showed no concern for the safety and health of fellow Hongkongers. They wrongly and arrogantly believed their common purpose was more important than protecting the community or the public’s right to protection from a serious health risk; an invisible risk.”
Those who pleaded guilty last week included six former leaders of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China – vice-chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan, 69, and standing committee members Andrew Wan Siu-kin, 52, Cheung Man-kwong, 66, Mak Hoi-wah, 70, Leung Kwok-wah, 62, and Chiu Yan-loy, 36.
The alliance, which is widely expected to disband at a coming emergency general meeting, recently saw three of its leaders – alliance chairman Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho and vice-chairwoman Chow Hang-tung – arrested for allegedly inciting others to subvert state power.
Chow and four other members were also accused of declining to hand over information required by national security police.
Former lawmakers “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, 65, Cyd Ho Sau-lan, 67, Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, 43, and Yeung Sum, 73, along with former convenor of the now-disbanded Civil Human Rights Front Figo Chan Ho-wun, 25, and Labour Party chairman Steven Kwok Wing-kin, 34, also admitted their respective charges.
Albert Ho, Chan and Wan were each sentenced to 10 months in jail, while Kwok and Chiu were jailed for eight months. Cyd Ho, Leung Kwok-hung, Chu and Yeung were each sentenced to six months behind bars.
Cheung and Mak were each sentenced to eight months, but Woodcock ordered their terms be suspended for 1½ years after considering their backgrounds, ages, clear criminal records, health and history of public service. Leung Kwok-wah’s four-month jail sentence was also suspended for a year on the same grounds.
The judge also ordered the new sentences imposed on Albert Ho, Chan, Cyd Ho, Leung Kwok-hung and Yeung to run concurrently with their existing ones, meaning their previous jail terms would remain effectively unchanged.
Before Wednesday’s sentence, the five were already serving time over unauthorised assemblies during the social unrest in 2019, while Wan and Chu were remanded in custody under the national security law for taking part in an unofficial primary election last year.
In the banned vigil case, the 12 had faced one count of knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly, with seven – Albert Ho, Wan, Cheung, Mak, Chiu, Chan and Kwok – facing an additional incitement charge.
Eight others, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and Lee Cheuk-yan, have pleaded not guilty in connection with their roles in last year’s vigil. They will stand trial in November.
On May 6, activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung and three district councillors – Lester Shum, Tiffany Yuen Ka-wai and Janelle Leung Hoi-ching – were sentenced to between four and 10 months in prison after pleading guilty to taking part in the same event.
Amnesty International Asia-Pacific director Yamini Mishra described Wednesday’s ruling as “another outrageous attack on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly”.
“It is scandalous that the 12 people formally convicted today have been jailed despite having committed no internationally recognisable crime,” she said in a statement. “Yet there may be worse to come for the organisers of the vigil – some of whom are also facing more serious, yet no less spurious, ‘national security’ charges.”
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