HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - A dozen Hong Kong activists, including a former chief executive candidate and the former head of the city's biggest protest group, have pleaded guilty to charges related to a vigil last year to commemorate the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Albert Ho, a former Democratic Party leader who sought the city's top office in 2012, and Figo Chan, former convener of the Civil Human Rights Front, were among seven defendants who pleaded guilty in a district court on Thursday (Sept 9) to taking part in the banned protest and inciting others to do so.
Another five, including former lawmakers Leung "Long Hair" Kwok Hung, Cyd Ho and Yeung Sum, pleaded guilty to a single charge of taking part in the June 4, 2020, gathering.
"No matter how they suppress us, freedom will bloom," Chan said during the hearing. "Democracy will triumph and return."
Thousands of activists had defied a police ban to go ahead with the candlelight vigil in Victoria Park, which drew tens of thousands of people annually, including a record 180,000 on the Tiananmen crackdown's 30th anniversary in 2019.
Although government officials blame the ban on the need to prevent coronavirus outbreaks, democracy advocates have accused them of using the pandemic to curb freedoms guaranteed to the former British colony before its 1997 return to Chinese rule.
Government prosecutions have swept up scores of Hong Kong's most prominent activists in the wake of historic street protests in 2019.
Some defendants in Thursday's case, such as Ho and Chan, are already serving jail time for their roles in separate protests and faced pressure to plead guilty to keep their prison terms from getting even longer.
Four others defendants, including former student activist Joshua Wong, were sentenced to jail in May for participating in the protest. Eight more, including jailed media tycoon Jimmy Lai and vigil organiser Chow Hang Tung, have pleaded not guilty and will face trial in November.
The guilty pleas come a day after Chow and three other organisers of the annual vigil were arrested over their refusal to cooperate with a national security probe.
The Liaison Office, China's top agency in Hong Kong, praised the arrests, saying they reflected the "fairness and justice of the law".