A Hong Kong court on Wednesday jailed nine former opposition lawmakers and democracy activists for up to 10 months after they pleaded guilty to charges linked to “illegal assembly” in connection with a banned vigil marking the June 4 anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre last year.
District Court judge Amanda Woodcock handed down jail terms of 10 months apiece to rights lawyer Albert Ho, activist Figo Chan and former lawmaker Andrew Wan, sentences of eight months to Labour Party chairman Steven Kwok and district councilor Chiu Yan-loi, and six-month prison terms to former lawmakers Cyd Ho, Leung Kwok-hung, Eddie Chu and Yeung Sum.
District councilor Cheung Man-kwong, Democratic Party activist Mak Hoi-wah and Tiananmen vigil organizer Leung Kwok-wah were given suspended sentences.
Chiu told RFA before the sentencing hearing that he was prepared to go to jail.
“All of us defendants are psychologically prepared to go to prison,” Chiu said. “But we also want Hongkongers not to lose hope, and not to forget about June 4, 1989.”
“We hope they will protect our memories [of that event], in different places and in different ways, and hold onto hope,” he said.
Members of the League of Social Democrats turned out to support the defendants outside the court.
Spokesperson Chan Po-ying said that the vigil organizers, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Democratic Patriotic Movements of China, had been in existence for 32 years before it was accused of “subversion” under the national security law.
“I think we are in a new normal now, in which they will be settling old scores, one after another,” Chan said.
“They will carry on suppressing any civil organizations that keep going, and continue to target pro-democracy activists and groups.”
Tang allegations condemned
Passing sentence, Judge Woodcock said the defendants had “wrongly and arrogantly” believed their cause was more important than a public health crisis, given that the government had cited the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason for banning the vigil.
Albert Ho, Figo Chan, Cyd Ho, Leung Kwok-hung and Yeung Sum are already serving other sentences, and the new sentences will run concurrently with those sentences, she ruled.
Meanwhile, a Paris-based press freedom group called on Hong Kong’s security chief to reconsider his accusations against a professional journalists’ association after he said it was “infiltrating” schools to recruit young people as journalists.
“[Reporters Without Borders] RSF calls on #HongKong Secretary for Security Chris Tang to reconsider his accusations against @HKJA_Official,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said via its Twitter account, in support of the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA).
Tang had made the allegations in an interview with the Ta Kung Pao, a Hong Kong newspaper backed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
“In an interview … with @TakungNews, Tang groundlessly stated that the journalists association was ‘infiltrating schools’,” RSF tweeted.
The HKJA also called on Tang to “verify the facts before making remark, to avoid misleading the public.”
“The HKJA finds it deeply regrettable that some senior government officials ignored the truth and made false judgements,” the association said in a statement on its website.
The exchange comes amid growing fears that Tang’s comments are a signal that the HKJA is under strong political pressure to disband, a fate that has already befallen a number of other civil society groups in Hong Kong following denunciations by Chinese officials, or by the CCP-backed media.
Support groups disband
The denunciations usually focus on accusations that a given organization has done something that could be in breach of a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the CCP from July 1, 2020.
Several organizations, including protest march organizers the Civil Human Rights Front, the Professional Teachers’ Union and Wall-fare, a prison support group for those in custody because of the 2019 protest movement, have already disbanded following denunciations in the CCP-backed media.
HKJA said it has 60 student reporter members out of a total membership of 486, but declined to say which media organizations they work for, citing privacy laws.
HKJA chairman Ronson Chan told RFA that the group used to take part in some activities in schools.
“Both the [now abolished] Liberal Studies syllabus and the syllabus for Chinese studies once included discussion of the media, newswriting, reporting and media theory, morals and ethics,” Chan said.
“They would have HKJA members give lectures in schools, mostly to talk about what it’s like to be a journalist, and to educate them about the media, so that students from different backgrounds could experience it,” he said.
“There was never any political element to it, nor any political views expressed,” Chan said.
Chan told government broadcaster RTHK on Tuesday that the group wouldn’t give up without a fight.
“We will not dissolve easily and we will do our best to discharge our duty until the last moment,” he said.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.