Nine veteran democracy activists in Hong Kong have been sentenced to between six and 10 months in jail for joining last year’s Tiananmen vigil, which was banned by police.
Three others were handed suspended sentences on the same charges of joining an unlawful assembly or inciting others to join on Wednesday.
Amnesty International condemned the verdicts as “another outrageous attack” on the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people.
“It is scandalous that the 12 people formally convicted today have been jailed despite having committed no internationally recognisable crime. 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,” Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director Yamini Mishra said in a statement.
The sentencing came one week after leaders of the group behind the annual vigil were separately accused of inciting subversion following a police raid on a museum in the city dedicated to remembering the crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
The Hong Kong Alliance had organised 30 years of vigils commemorating those who died.
Once one of the most visible symbols of Hong Kong’s political freedoms, the peaceful June 4 gathering has been banned for the past two years, with authorities citing the coronavirus pandemic and security fears.
China is in the process of remoulding the territory following mass democracy protests in 2019 that sometimes descended into violence, imposing national security legislation last year that makes a crime of any act Beijing deems subversion, secession, “terrorism” and collusion with foreign forces.
On Tuesday, Chris Tang, a former police chief promoted to security secretary this year, said Hong Kong was working on developing a host of new national security offences.
Since Beijing imposed the law, prominent democracy figures have been arrested and anyone deemed “unpatriotic” purged.
On Wednesday, Albert Ho, former vice chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance, was handed terms of 10 months for incitement and six months for attending the vigil.
His terms will be served concurrently with 18 months he is already serving in relation to other cases.
No tolerance for political defiance
The case over the 2020 vigil involved a total of 26 activists from across Hong Kong.
Two – Nathan Law and Sunny Cheung – had already gone into exile before the group were first summoned to court in September last year.
Joshua Wong, Lester Shum, Tiffany Yuen and Janelle Leung were handed jail terms earlier this year for attending the vigil.
The last eight defendants, who pleaded not guilty, will face trial in November.
In recent years, crowds at the annual event had swelled as anger intensified over how Beijing was running Hong Kong.
The space for alternative political viewpoints in Hong Kong’s once vibrant political landscape has shrunk since the security law was imposed.
More than 100 pro-democracy figures have been arrested under the law, mostly for expressing political views.
Most are denied bail and face up to life in prison if convicted.