Hong Kong Court Jails Joshua Wong, District Councilors Over Tiananmen Vigil

The judge said he wanted to deter others from attending similar protests in future.
Hong Kong Court Jails Joshua Wong, District Councilors Over Tiananmen Vigil Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong is shown in a file photo.

A court in Hong Kong on Thursday handed jail terms to jailed democracy activist Joshua Wong and three opposition members of the city's District Council for attending a vigil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.

Wong was sentenced to 10 months' imprisonment, while district councilor Lester Shum was jailed for six months. Fellow councilors Tiffany Yuen and Jannelle Leung were each handed four-month sentence.

All four had pleaded guilty to taking part in last year's candlelight vigil, which was attended by thousands of people in Victoria Park despite a ban by the authorities, ostensibly to prevent the transmission of coronavirus.

District Court judge Stanley Chan said he wouldn't consider a non-custodial sentence, as none of the defendants had shown "sincere remorse."

He said he had reduced some of their sentences in view of the fact that they were holders of public office.

As the judge read out the sentence, there were shouts of "objection!" from the public gallery. Judge Chan warned that anyone causing a disturbance could face charges of contempt of court, calling on them to "express their emotions outside the court."

Protesters also gathered outside the building, chanting "Shame on political trials!" and "Remember the victims of June 4, 1989!"

Chan said Shum and Wong had received longer sentences because they had criminal records linked to separate "illegal assembly" charges, and that all four had "deliberately, openly and in a premeditated way" flouted the ban to achieve political goals.

Shum, Yuen, and Leung look likely to lose their seats, as their sentences are longer than the maximum prison term allowable for a serving member of the District Council.

Wong and the other defendants appeared in good spirits, waving to friends and family in the gallery.

"Literally speaking, the defendants were showing that they enjoyed greater freedom than the rest of the public," the judge said, adding that the freedom of speech promised to Hong Kong wasn't absolute, and citing the need for a deterrent to future illegal assemblies.

Wong will serve his new prison sentence after the current one ends in August.

Likely deterrent effect

Wong, Shum, and Yuen also stand accused of breaking a draconian national security law after they took part in a democratic primary for elections that were scheduled for September 2020, but were postponed until December 2021 by the government.

Barrister Chow Hang-tung, vice chairwoman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, said the sentences would likely have a deterrent effect on future public protests.

"I think it will deter people from expressing themselves politically, because the court has erased the boundary between peaceful and violent protest," Chow said. "It is trying to nip [dissent] in the bud."

"This is wrong, and breaches international human rights covenants, and violates people's right to freedom of speech under the Basic Law and constitution," she said.

Zhang Xianling, a member of the Tiananmen Mothers victims' group thanked the people of Hong Kong for holding mass vigils for those who died in the massacre every year since it happened.

"I have always felt that they were an expression of Hong Kong's regret and mourning for those young patriots, and a condemnation of their murders," she said.

"I oppose their sentences ... I think they are unreasonable," Zhang said.

Journalist wins award

The sentences came as a journalist punished for investigating a mob attack on passengers in Yuen Long on July 21, 2019 won one of the city's Human Rights Press Awards.

RTHK -- which was recently restructured to make its editorial content more compliant with government directives -- won the Chinese-language documentary award for a film about the attacks made by freelance producer Bao Choy and five colleagues. Choy was recently fined for "illegal" use of a vehicle license plate search facility during research for the film.

The judges called Choy's film "7.21 Who owns the truth?", "an investigative reporting classic."

RTHK reported that it will not be accepting any awards during a “transition period,” as a review of its operations is conducted by the new Director of Broadcasting, Patrick Li.

An executive producer who headed the hard-hitting documentary series Hong Kong Connection, resigned on Thursday after management quashed his pitches for documentaries about the Tiananmen vigil attended by Wong and the other defendants, and for a follow-up on the Yuen Long mob attack.

Meanwhile, national security police raided the children's clothing store Chickeeduck, which is known for its statue of a protester modeled on the 2019 protest movement known as "Lady Liberty."

"They had a search warrant from to search a shop that hasn't violated any laws, but they gave no reason," store owner Herbert Chow told reporters. He said national security police had said "I don't have to answer your questions," when asked how the store allegedly broke the national security law.

Reported by Gigi Lee and Lu Xi for RFA's Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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