Crowd gathered at Victoria Park to commemorate victims of the 1989 Tiananmen military action in June 4, 2020. (File photo)

3 left to stand trial as 5 plead guilty over banned Tiananmen vigil in Hong Kong

Five advocates of Hong Kong democracy pleaded guilty in court on Monday over an unauthorised public event on June 4 last year that marked the 1989 Beijing Tiananmen Square crackdown on Chinese civilians.

With their decisions, the five joined 16 other defendants who had entered guilty pleas before the start of the trial in the District Court.

The latest development reduces to three the number who will be contesting their charges of taking part and inciting others to take part in the annual June 4 event, which Hong Kong police had banned in 2020 for the first time, citing the pandemic.

One of those who pleaded guilty was Lee Cheuk-yan, former chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the organiser of the yearly commemoration. He admitted all three charges, including one of holding an unauthorised assembly.

While entering his plea, Lee said: “Mourning June 4 represents justice. [I have] no regrets.”

The other four who admitted guilt on Monday were the alliance’s standing committee members Richard Tsoi, Leung Yiu-chung and Leung Kam-wai, and former Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai. All five will receive their sentences on November 12. 

Judge Amanda Woodcock did not remand Tsoi or Leung Yiu-chung in custody. Lee is now serving jail time for other cases, while Wu and Leung Kam-wai are in detention.

The alliance organised the June 4 candlelight vigil at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park every year to commemorate victims of the Tiananmen military action in 1989. Last year was the 31st anniversary of the event.

A total of 24 defendants originally faced prosecution that included taking part and inciting others to take part in the unauthorised assembly, contrary to common law and the Public Order Ordinance. The 16 who previously pleaded guilty have received sentences of four to 10 months in jail. 

The only defendants left facing the 10-day trial are media tycoon Jimmy Lai, the alliance’s vice-chairwoman Chow Hang-tung and former journalist Gwyneth Ho. Lai is serving time for participating in an unauthorised assembly in 2019, while Chow and Ho are held in custody on national security offences.

At the beginning of the trial on Monday, prosecutors told the court that Lee spoke by loudhailer in front of the park’s water fountain plaza at 6.25pm on June 4, 2020.

Lee also led defendants Lai, Chow, Leung Yiu-chung, Leung Kam-wai and the others to stand together, appealing to the public to light candles at 8pm wherever they were and observe a minute of silence at 8.09pm, the prosecution said.

Lai then suggested to Lee to start lighting the candles in their hands, the court heard. Lee raised his hand, signalling “Five demands, not one less”, and in response the other defendants raised their hands and echoed slogans shouted by Lee.

The prosecution went on to say that Lai was a prominent public figure. In the run-up to the vigil, he had given a media interview appealing to the public to express their stance on the June 4 crackdown, and on the night itself, he showed support for the vigil by purposely going to the water fountain plaza. 

He gave another interview on the same night, to a reporter at the Holy Cross Church in Shau Kei Wan. When informed that many people had entered Victoria Park, Lai said he felt “encouraged and inspired”, according to the prosecution.

Meanwhile, Chow also granted a media interview on June 1, 2020, the court heard. She said that the alliance, when facing suppression by the Communist Party, would continue to chant the slogan, “End one-party dictatorship”, in the gathering on June 4.

Chow, who on Monday stood by her previous plea, said: “No permission is needed to mourn June 4. I plead not guilty.”

The prosecution further told the court that the police issued repeated public warnings via loudspeakers around Victoria Park on June 4 for the public to stay away, and still 20,000 people turned up that night.

The 16 defendants who earlier pleaded guilty include former lawmakers Albert Ho, Andrew Wan, Cyd Ho, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and Eddie Chu. They also include Figo Chan, Cheung Man-kwong, Kwok Wing-kin, Chiu Yan-loy, Mak Hoi-wah, Leung Kwok-wah, Yeung Sum, Joshua Wong, Lester Shum, Jannelle Leung and Tiffany Yuen. Two others, Nathan Law and Sunny Cheung, have fled Hong Kong and are wanted by the police.

The maximum jail time for participating in an unlawful assembly is five years. The trial continues tomorrow.

By Y.S. Luk