Hong Kong police have told 13 prominent pro-democracy activists in the past two days that they face charges for “inciting” people to participate in last week’s rally to commemorate the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen crackdown, in what is seen as another move to suppress dissent as Beijing tightens its control of the embattled city.
On Thursday, police told Jimmy Lai, founder of the Apple Daily newspaper, and three core members of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, Richard Tsoi and former lawmakers Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho, that they would be prosecuted on the charge of "inciting others to participate in an unauthorized assembly."
On Friday, the alliance said nine more activists, including its vice-chairwoman Chow Hang-tung, core members Cheung Man-kwong and Leung Yiu-chung, as well as chairman of the Labor Party Steven Kwok and Figo Chan, the vice convener of the Civil Human Rights Front, which has organized mass protests including the million-strong demonstration that kicked off the anti-extradition movement in June last year, would also face charges.
The alliance had organized the annual candlelight vigil for 30 years. The event took place uninterrupted until this year, when police banned the event on the grounds that it would pose a "major threat to public health" even though the pandemic has eased in Hong Kong and major leisure facilities including swimming pools and theme parks have reopened.
Thousands, however, defied the police ban and thronged to Victoria Park to commemorate the Tiananmen crackdown anyway. And because police had refused to issue a permit for an organized event, the alliance had urged people in advance to hold individual commemorations, light candles at home, or take part in online meetings on the 31st anniversary of the military crackdown.
In a statement, police said they issued a notice of objection to the organizers of the June 4 candlelight vigil, but “some people still ignored it and called on the public to attend an unauthorized rally in Victoria Park.”
Without giving names, the police statement said it had applied to the court for a summons of 12 men and one woman aged between 24 and 72 on the charge and they were required to answer the charge in court on June 23.
Police said they could arrest more people involved in the case. Police have not immediately responded to a reporter’s request for comments on Friday.
Six of the people contacted by police, Lai, Lee, Ho, Tsoi, Leung and Chan, are also among the 15 prominent democracy activists arrested by police in mid-April on charges of illegal assembly in the biggest crackdown on the semi-autonomous city’s pro-democracy movement since mass, sometimes violent anti-government protests rocked the former British colony in June last year.