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Hong Kong: Tiananmen vigil convictions are another 'outrageous attack' on free speech

Responding to the jailing of 12 people who took part in a peaceful vigil to mark the Tiananmen crackdown on 4 June last year, Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director said:

“The jailing of 12 Hongkongers who took part in an entirely peaceful - but ‘unauthorised’ - vigil to commemorate the victims of China’s violent Tiananmen crackdown is another outrageous attack on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

“Depressingly, this unjust verdict was entirely expected amid the accelerating collapse of human rights in Hong Kong - exemplified by the recent targeting of the Hong Kong Alliance, the group that had long organised the Tiananmen vigil.

“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.

“Despite the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities’ relentless attempts to erase history by jailing people who peacefully light a candle for the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown, the continued support for the June Fourth movement in Hong Kong and around the world shows that this atrocity will never be forgotten.”

Hong Kong Alliance targeted

Earlier today, Hong Kong’s District Court sentenced 12 people to between four and ten months in prison for “unauthorised assembly” in relation to their participation last year in the city’s annual vigil to remember the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing. Of these 12, three had their sentences suspended for between 12 and 18 months.

Those sentenced today include prominent activists Figo Chan, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and Eddie Chu, as well as Albert Ho, the former vice chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (Hong Kong Alliance), the group which has organised the territory’s Tiananmen vigil for the past 30 years.

The Hong Kong Alliance has come under increasing pressure since the enactment of Hong Kong’s national security law last year and especially so in recent weeks. Last month, the group were accused by Hong Kong police’s national security unit of “collusion with foreign forces” and ordered to provide information about its membership, finances and activities. 

When the group refused to cooperate by the 7 September deadline, citing concerns over risks to its members, four members were arrested early the next day. Group leaders Lee Cheuk Yan, Albert Ho and Chow Hang-tung were subsequently charged with “inciting subversion” under the draconian national security law and face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Their trial begins on 28 October. Chow was previously arrested on 4 June this year for “inciting others to knowingly participate in a banned rally”. Ho and Lee Cheuk-yan are already in jail for their roles in anti-government protests in 2019.

All 12 convicted today had previously pleaded guilty to the “unauthorised assembly” charge. Eight others who did not plead guilty in the same case - including Chow Hang Tung and Lee Cheuk-yan, as well as Apple Daily newspaper founder Jimmy Lai - face trial on 1 November. Three others charged in the case, including prominent activist Joshua Wong, already received jail terms in May ranging from four to ten months.

Hong Kong’s Public Order Ordinance establishes a system in which permission from police is required to stage an assembly or procession. If police do not do so the protest is considered “unauthorised” and those organising and participating in the event can be fined and jailed. This runs counter to international law, which stipulates that state authorities cannot require prior approval, but only notification to help facilitate orderly assemblies.

Annual Tiananmen vigil

On the evening of 3-4 June 1989, hundreds - possibly thousands - of people were killed in Beijing when troops opened fire on students and workers who had been peacefully calling for political and economic reforms, as well as an end to corruption. An unknown number of people were killed and jailed in similar crackdowns throughout the country. No one knows the exact number of fatalities since the Chinese authorities have systematically censored discussion of the crackdown for the past three decades.

Hongkongers attending the Tiananmen vigil in the city’s Victoria Park since 1990 have called on the Chinese authorities to reveal the truth about what happened and take responsibility for the killings. This year’s vigil was banned on Covid-19 grounds for the second year running, despite low cases in the city at the time - including a run of 38 days without a single untraceable local virus case shortly before the vigil was scheduled to take place.


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