Hong Kong activists yesterday denounced Beijing and called for democracy as two dozen high-profile campaigners appeared in a courtroom over a banned vigil to mark the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Tens of thousands of Hong Kongers defied a ban on rallies on June 4 to mark the anniversary of Beijing’s deadly suppression of students pushing for democracy.
The annual vigil has been held in Hong Kong for the past three decades and usually attracts huge crowds, but this year’s gathering was banned for the first time, with authorities citing COVID-19 measures — even though local transmission had largely been halted.
The group of defendants at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts represents a broad section of the pro-democracy movement, from 72-year-old media mogul Jimmy Lai (黎智英) to younger campaigners, such as 23-year-old Joshua Wong (黃之鋒).
The 26 accused are charged with either participating in or inciting others to take part in an unlawful assembly. The incitement charge carries up to five years in jail.
Each defendant at the procedural hearing was asked if they understood the charges they face, and many used the opportunity to voice their views.
“I understand,” said 64-year-old Leung Kwok-hung (梁國雄), known as “Long Hair.”
“The ruthless regime cannot run away from the crime of a massacre. End one party rule,” the former Hong Kong legislator said.
“I understand,” 24-year-old Figo Chan (陳皓桓) said. “Shame on political suppression. Free all political prisoners.”
The court heard two of the defendants — Nathan Law (羅冠聰) and Sunny Cheung (張崑陽) — were not present because they have fled Hong Kong.
Earlier, supporters gathered outside court to shout slogans and display banners defending their right to hold a Tiananmen vigil.
“It’s not a crime to mourn June 4,” one poster read, while another said: “Oppose political prosecutions; Protest political suppression.”
Veteran activist Lee Cheuk-yan (李卓人), 63, told the crowd over a loudspeaker: “We must reiterate that mourning June 4 is not a crime.”
The vigil, traditionally held in Victoria Park, has taken on particular significance in recent years as the territory chafes under Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
“Suppression suffered by activists on June 4, 1989, is very similar to what Hong Kong people suffered in the past year,” Lee added.
Some of those charged face separate prosecutions related to last year’s huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.
China’s leaders have rejected calls to give Hong Kongers universal suffrage, and portrayed the protests as a plot by foreigners to destabilize the motherland.
In late June, Beijing imposed a sweeping National Security Law aimed at stamping out the demonstrations once and for all.
The legislation targets subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion, with sentences including life in prison.
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