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Hong Kong activists jailed over Tiananmen Square massacre vigil

People holding aloft candles at an evening vigil in Hong Kong
Thousands of people attend a June 4, 2019, candlelight vigil in Hong Kong for the victims of the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
(Kin Cheung / Associated Press)

Nine Hong Kong activists and former lawmakers Wednesday were handed jail sentences of up to 10 months over their roles in last year’s banned candlelight vigil commemorating China’s 1989 massacre of pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square.

The sentences are the latest blow in an ongoing crackdown by Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing authorities on dissent in the semiautonomous city.

The nine are part of a group of 12 defendants who pleaded guilty earlier this month to participating in last year’s vigil, normally an annual event that is the only public commemoration on Chinese soil of the 1989 massacre in Beijing. Three other people were given suspended sentences.

They were all charged with taking part in an unauthorized assembly, with seven of them facing an additional charge of inciting others to take part in the event.

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Police last year banned the annual vigil for the first time in three decades, citing public health risks from the COVID-19 pandemic. Critics believe the ban was part of the crackdown on opposition in Hong Kong following months of anti-government protests in 2019.

More than a dozen activists and thousands of other people turned up at the June 4, 2020, vigil despite the ban. The crowds broke through barriers set up around the Victoria Park venue to light candles and sing songs despite police warnings.

Thousands of people from Hong Kong are fleeing increasing Chinese control over their lives and moving to Britain, which ruled the city for 156 years.

Police later arrested more than 20 activists, including leaders of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the association that organizes the yearly vigil.

Some of those sentenced Wednesday, such as lawyer Albert Ho and Figo Chan, former leader of the now-defunct Civil Human Rights Front, are already serving jail sentences in connection with other unauthorized gatherings.

Eight other activists who were charged over last year’s Tiananmen vigil, including Jimmy Lai, the founder of the defunct Apple Daily newspaper, and alliance leader Lee Cheuk-yan, have pleaded not guilty and will stand trial in November.

Prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong and three others had previously pleaded guilty over their roles in the event and were sentenced to between four and 10 months in jail.

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In June, Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong that targets secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion in the city’s affairs. More than 100 people have been arrested under the national security law.

Beijing and Hong Kong officials have been criticized for rolling back freedoms promised to Hong Kong for 50 years when the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997.


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