Joshua Wong, a Hong Kong democracy activist, was one of four people charged on Friday with holding an unlawful assembly on June 4 last year to commemorate the 1989 crackdown on demonstrators in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
The vigil was the first to be outlawed in the global financial center, with police citing coronavirus prohibitions on community gatherings, as they did for all protests last year. This year, it is predicted to suffer a similar fate.
Despite this, tens of thousands of people lit candles throughout the city last June in what was mostly a peaceful affair, barring a brief clash with riot police in one neighborhood. Wong pleaded guilty in the District Court after being found guilty of engaging in and organizing an unauthorised assembly during the mass pro-democracy protests in 2019.
Lester Shum, Jannelle Leung, and Tiffany Yuen were the other activists who pleaded guilty. Eddie Chu, another activist, requested a postponement, and his case will be heard on June 11 alongside 19 others facing similar charges. The fourth anniversary of June last year struck a particularly delicate nerve in the former British colony, just as Beijing was ready to introduce new legislation on security that penalizes everything China sees as subversion, secession, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces up to life in prison.
While in jail, Mr. Wong was arrested in January on suspicion that he had breached the new law that came in July 2020, by taking part in an informal vote, which the authorities describe as a “vicious plot” to ‘overthrow’ the government. This year’s event on June 4 is especially inconvenient for Beijing, which is commemorating the Communist Party’s 100th anniversary. When asked if commemorating the victims of Tiananmen Square would violate the new security law, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said this week that it was appropriate to show respect to the Party.
In mainland China, commemorations of the Tiananmen Square crackdown are prohibited, but Hong Kong has held the world’s largest vigils every year since 1997, when it was promised such freedoms, including freedom of speech and assembly, when it returned to Chinese rule.China has never provided a comprehensive account of the 1989 Tiananmen Square riots. Official figures put the death toll at about 300, with the majority of those killed being troops, but rights groups and witnesses believe thousands more may have died.