A Hong Kong court issued arrest warrants on Thursday for two pro-democracy activists after they failed to attend a hearing on October 15 related to their attendance of a banned Tiananmen massacre vigil in Hong Kong on June 4.
Nathan Law and Sunny Cheung failed to appear at this week’s hearing because they fled Hong Kong in recent months following Beijing’s imposition of a new national security law on the city in late May. The law stripped Hong Kong citizens of their limited rights to free speech and freedom of assembly and undermined the city’s traditional semi-autonomy.
The two pro-democracy activists were among 26 Hongkongers “accused of inciting people to take part or knowingly taking part in an unauthorized assembly in Victoria Park” on June 4, Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) recalled on Friday.
Tens of thousands of people gathered in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park on June 4 to commemorate the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, in which the Chinese military killed thousands of peaceful, pro-democracy student protesters. Participants in the candlelight vigil defied a city-wide ban on large gatherings in place at the time due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Hong Kong police arrested 13 attendees of the banned event shortly after the gathering and charged them with “inciting an unlawful assembly.” The offense carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail. Law and Cheung were among those charged, along with other leading members of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, such as media tycoon Jimmy Lai, Joshua Wong, and Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai.
A West Kowloon court magistrate on Thursday “adjourned the cases of Law and Cheung until police had made the arrests while the remaining cases were transferred to the District Court. The 24 defendants who are present … will appear in court again on November 3,” HKFP reported on Friday.
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China traditionally organizes the city’s annual Tiananmen massacre vigil. The group’s director, Lee Cheuk-yan, was among the 13 people charged for attending the event. He gathered with fellow defendants on Thursday outside the West Kowloon courthouse before the hearing. The group brandished placards reading “Innocent to mourn June 4” and “Oppose political prosecution.”
“Very obviously, the [Hong Kong Department of Justice] wants to transfer the case to the District Court to seek a higher penalty. We insist, as the Hong Kong Alliance, that we have the right to mourn June 4,” Lee told local reporters before the hearing.