Hong Kong democracy activists appear in court over banned Tiananmen vigil

Hong Kong democracy activists appear in court over banned Tiananmen vigil

FILE PHOTO: Protesters take part in a candlelight vigil to mark the 31st anniversary of the crackdo
FILE PHOTO: Protesters take part in a candlelight vigil to mark the 31st anniversary of the crackdown of pro-democracy protests at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, in Hong Kong. (Photo: Reuters)

HONG KONG: Twenty-four activists appeared in a Hong Kong court on Friday (Feb 5) on charges related to a Jun 4 vigil last year marking the anniversary of China's military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Hong Kong traditionally holds the largest vigil in the world every year, although it was banned in 2020, with authorities giving the risk of spreading the coronavirus as the reason. The vigils have always been banned in mainland China.

But thousands of Hong Kong people defied the ban and took to the streets to stage candlelight rallies in the former British colony which was promised wide-ranging freedoms when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, including rights of expression and assembly.

READ: China wields patriotic education to tame Hong Kong's rebellious youth

Released from jail to attend the court hearing were media tycoon and staunch Beijing critic Jimmy Lai, 73, and prominent democracy activist Joshua Wong, 24.

Lai is being held pending a bail hearing after he became the city's most high-profile person to be charged under a controversial national security law. Wong is serving more than 13 months related to an unlawful anti-government rally in 2019.

READ: Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong detained for illegal assembly

READ: Lawyer for Hong Kong activist has licence revoked by China

Five of the group, including Wong, indicated they planned to plead guilty to charges related to illegal assembly and their case was adjourned to Apr 30. The rest were expected to plead not guilty and their case was adjourned to Jun 11.

Outside the court, more than a dozen supporters shouted slogans and held up placards that read, "Against political suppression" and "Innocent to mourn Jun 4".

Last year's Jun 4 anniversary came nearly four weeks before Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong that Western governments and rights groups have widely condemned as a tool to crush freedoms in the global financial hub.

Hong Kong and Chinese authorities reject that and say the legislation was necessary to restore stability after a year of sometimes violent anti-China and anti-government demonstrations.

China has never provided a full account of the 1989 violence. The death toll given by officials days later was about 300, most of them soldiers, but rights groups and witnesses say thousands of people may have perished.

Source: Reuters

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