HK's Joshua Wong pleads guilty over illegal assembly

Activist Joshua Wong speaking near Victoria Park on June 4 last year during a vigil marking the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Activist Joshua Wong speaking near Victoria Park on June 4 last year during a vigil marking the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HONG KONG • Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong was among four people who pleaded guilty to participating in an illegal assembly on June 4 last year to commemorate the 1989 crackdown on protesters in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

It was the first time the vigil had been banned in the global financial hub, with the police citing, as it did for all demonstrations last year, coronavirus restrictions on group gatherings. It is expected to face a similar fate this year.

Still, tens of thousands of people lit candles across the city in what was largely a peaceful event last June, barring a brief skirmish with riot police in one neighbourhood.

Wong, already in prison after he was found guilty of participating and organising an unauthorised assembly during the mass pro-democracy protests in 2019, pleaded guilty in the district court yesterday.

The other activists who pleaded guilty were Lester Shum, Jannelle Leung and Tiffany Yuen.

Another activist, Eddie Chu, asked for an adjournment and his case will be heard on June 11, with 19 others facing similar charges.

The June 4 anniversary struck an especially sensitive nerve in the former British colony last year, coming just as Beijing prepared to introduce new security legislation that punishes anything China sees as subversion, secession, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.

While in prison, Wong was arrested in January on suspicion of breaking the new law, which was introduced in July last year, by taking part in an unofficial vote to pick opposition candidates for a since-postponed election, which the authorities described as a "vicious plot" to "overthrow" the government.

This year, the June 4 event is particularly awkward for Beijing, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, when asked whether commemorating the victims of Tiananmen would violate the new security law, said this week that it was important to show respect to the party.

Commemorations of the Tiananmen crackdown are banned in mainland China, but Hong Kong traditionally held the largest vigils globally every year, having been promised certain freedoms when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, including rights of expression and assembly.

The death toll given by officials for the 1989 event was about 300, most of them soldiers, but rights groups say thousands of people may have died.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2021, with the headline 'HK's Joshua Wong pleads guilty over illegal assembly'. Subscribe