HONG KONG – Nine Hong Kong democracy activists were sentenced to six to 10 months in prison on Wednesday for attending an unauthorized gathering of demonstrators at the Tiananmen Square vigil for victims of the Chinese actions in 1989.
The former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of far-reaching freedoms, traditionally holds the largest vigil in the world on June 4th.
Download the. down NBC news app for breaking news and politics
However, the last two vigils have been banned by police citing coronavirus restrictions on public gatherings. But after the mass protests for democracy in Hong Kong in 2019, the ban was seen by many activists as an attempt to stop any form of defiance against Beijing. The Hong Kong authorities denied that it was.
Despite the ban, thousands turned up to light candles across the city in 2020, and smaller crowds did the same in 2021.
“The defendants have ignored and belittled a real public health crisis,” District Court Judge Amanda Woodcock said.
“They mistakenly and arrogantly believed that their common purpose was more important than protecting the community or the public’s right to protection from serious health risks.”
Three other activists received suspended sentences.
All 12 pleaded guilty, including veteran vigil organizer Albert Ho, former lawmaker Eddie Chu, and Figo Chan, a former Civil Human Rights Front leader known for organizing large-scale demonstrations for democracy.
Last week, police arrested members of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, which organized the vigil, over the national security laws passed by Beijing last year. Police accused Allianz of being an “agent of foreign forces,” which the Alliance denies.
Alliance leaders Albert Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan and Chow Hang Tung were charged last week with inciting subversion. Ho and Lee are already in jail for their roles in the 2019 protests. Chow was denied bail.
Police last week also raided the premises of the closed June 4th museum dedicated to the Tiananmen Tiananmen.
The museum, which was closed on June 2nd due to an investigation by the food and environmental hygiene department of its license, reopened online as the “8964 Museum” and now works independently of the alliance.