Nine Hong Kong pro-democracy activists have been sentenced to between six and 10 months in prison for taking part in a banned vigil last year commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
They were among the 12 people who pled guilty to taking part in the event. Three people received suspended sentences.
The 4 June vigil for the victims of China’s deadly crackdown on protesters was banned by officials, citing Covid measures.
Critics believe the decision was part of a larger effort to silence the opposition.
Despite the ban, thousands of people turned out in 2020 to light candles and sing songs. Smaller crowds did the same this year when authorities banned the event, citing pandemic restrictions on public gatherings once again.
Albert Ho, a veteran vigil organiser and former vice chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the event’s organiser, was sentenced to ten months in prison for incitement and attendance.
Eddie Chu, a former lawmaker, and Figo Chan, a former leader of the Civil Human Rights Front, known for organising large-scale pro-democracy rallies, were also sentenced to prison.
“The defendants ignored and minimised a genuine public health crisis,” said District Court Judge Amanda Woodcock.
“They incorrectly and arrogantly believed that their common goal was more important than protecting the community or the public’s right to be protected from a serious health risk.”
Supporters sitting in the public gallery stood up as some defendants entered the dock and shouted “hang in there”, the Hong Kong Free Press website reported.
The sentence came just a week after several leaders of the Hong Kong Alliance were arrested under Beijing’s national security law, which was enacted last year. They have been accused of acting as “foreign agents,” which they deny.
Secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces are all crimes under the law. Critics claim it is intended to crush dissent, but China claims it is intended to maintain stability.
Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director Yamini Mishra called the sentence “another outrageous attack on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.”
“Depressingly, this unjust verdict was entirely predictable given Hong Kong’s accelerating collapse of human rights,” she added.