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

Public gathering last year wasn’t annual June 4 candlelight vigil, court told

A public gathering that happened at Victoria Park on June 4 last year was not the usual candlelight vigil held annually by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, a defence lawyer argued in court on Friday.

By law, a public meeting must be convened or organised by someone for a purpose, and someone must take leadership or control of the event, counsel Allison Wong said, citing the Public Order Ordinance.

Wong noted that the event for which the alliance had sought police permission was meant to mark the 31st anniversary of the June 4, 1989, crackdown which occurred in Beijing.

However, the gathering which eventually took place last year was not the same event, as the alliance did tell the public no vigil setup would be carried out, and also because the crowd shouted slogans that night which had nothing to do with June 4, the lawyer said.

Wong was giving her final arguments in the District Court on behalf of defendant Gwyneth Ho, a former journalist charged with participating in the unauthorised June 4, 2020, assembly, for which the police estimated about 20,000 people entered the park that night.

In her speech, Wong drew on video clips played earlier in court. Those clips showed defendant Chow Hang-tung, then alliance vice-chairwoman, saying publicly that the alliance would not have control over what would happen on June 4, and that owing to the police’s ban, there would be no stage, audio equipment or marshals managing the crowd.

Wong further singled out the audible shouting of slogans unrelated to June 4 at Victoria Park in the clips. The prosecution said the purpose of last year’s public gathering was to mark the June 4 crackdown and to express discontent with the Communist Party in China and the Hong Kong government, Wong noted. 

She argued that the claim regarding discontent was not the alliance’s intended purpose, hence the June 4 event at the park last year was indeed a different public gathering. 

Prosecutors failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that only one public meeting occurred at Victoria Park that night, namely, the meeting organised by the alliance, and Ho was in fact joining a completely different event for a different purpose, Wong said.

The court also heard the closing submission of Cheung Yiu-leung, defence counsel for Chow, on Friday.

Cheung said the alliance’s then chairman and vice-chair, Lee Cheuk-yan and Ho Chun-yan, had repeatedly made public announcements before June 4 last year that no large-scale meeting would be held at the park that night. 

Instead, the alliance would hold a real-time candlelight vigil online and ask people to light candles in different places in a personal capacity, the pair said. “The alliance will light candles in Victoria Park in groups of eight people,” Cheung quoted them as saying.

The defence lawyer said Chow repeated a similar message via a loudhailer in Causeway Bay on the afternoon of June 4, telling the public that the Victoria Park candlelight vigil had been banned and appealing to people to participate in the alliance’s internet vigil. She also asked people to light candles at places convenient to them.

“if there were incitement, it must have been incitement to ask the public to join the online assembly, where no authorisation was required,” Cheung said. “There was not a single word Chow said to ask people to enter Victoria Park.”

He said the prosecution, in trying to prove Chow was guilty of incitement, relied only on evidence that alliance members and some other people had gathered at the park’s water fountain plaza and walked inside the park together.

It was a ritual for alliance members to enter the park together, Cheung said. Their presence alone did not amount to a public meeting under the ordinance.

Before the trial, 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 ordinance. Sixteen of them previously pleaded guilty and have received sentences of four to 10 months in jail. 

Five other advocates of Hong Kong democracy, including Lee, entered guilty pleas at the start of the trial on November 1, further reducing the number of defendants to just three: Chow, Ho and media tycoon Jimmy Lai.

The trial will adjourn until December 9 for Judge Amanda Woodcock’s verdict.

By Y.S. Luk