Hong Kong justice announced Thursday (6) the sentencing of Joshua Wong, one of the best-known activists of the pro-democracy movement in the semi-autonomous territory, to ten additional months in prison for having participated in a vigil not authorized in memory of the victims of the Tiananmen Square (Tiananmen) massacre.
Last year, under the pretext of curbing the spread of the coronavirus, authorities in Hong Kong, for the first time in 30 years, banned protesters from rallying to honor the dead on June 4, 1989, when the Communist dictatorship took over. position. Lethal response to students calling for more democracy in Beijing.
Regardless, Wong, 24, and tens of thousands of other protesters lit candles and rallied in various parts of Hong Kong in 2020, disobeying the order of authorities in the only place in China where, in theory, vigils reminiscent of the massacre were still allowed.
Detained since December for participating in protests against Beijing in 2019 and in a primary election – seen by officials as a “wicked conspiracy to overthrow the government” – for the Hong Kong Legislative Council last year, Wong pleaded guilty to attend the vigil and saw his prison term increased by another ten months.
“Freedom of assembly is not unlimited,” Justice Stanley Chan said in his ruling. “This sentence should deter people from committing crimes and becoming repeat offenders.”
Besides Wong, other names in the pro-democracy movement were also sentenced Thursday for the same act. Former lawmaker Lester Shum was sentenced to six months in prison and activists Tiffany Yuen and Janelle Leung to four months. Twenty more people facing similar charges are due to stand trial in June, although many are already in detention for other violations.
Nathan Law, a democracy activist who fled Hong Kong to the UK and is considered a fugitive from China, condemned the court ruling and said the ban on last year’s vigil was unjustified.
“The court continues to increase the length of jail time for protesters and sees this as a path to a society with less conflict,” Law said.
“This is wrong. The only way to achieve harmony is to hold the powerful to account. Now the courts have turned into weapons against those who have no power.”
China has never provided a full account of the violence in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Officially, the regime acknowledges the deaths of 300 people, most of them soldiers, but human rights groups and witnesses believe them to be dead. victims by the thousands.
The theme is a taboo in Chinese society, so that in mainland China, any act in memory of the dead or in support of the demand of students at the time, still relevant today, is repressed by the authorities. .
In the past two years, in particular, the protests in reference to the massacre have also been directly linked to the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. The city is, in theory, an autonomous territory from the central regime, but in practice it is increasingly the target of repression and Beijing influence.
In 2019, the vigil for the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre took place in an already very tense political context in Hong Kong. A week later, the biggest protest movement against Beijing began, with almost daily protests in which the violence of the security forces called the attention of the international community to the excesses of the Communist dictatorship.
Last year, the law – banned by Honduran authorities as a suspected public health measure against Covid-19 – came a week after the Chinese Congress passed the new national security law for Hong Kong, which is said to be signed the following month.
The legislation authorizes the repression of four types of crimes against state security: subversive activities, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with penalties that can lead to life imprisonment.
This year, the vigil was also banned due to the coronavirus pandemic, although the health crisis in Hong Kong is relatively under control – the city of 7.5 million people has a moving average of six new cases per day.
Asked whether acts in memory of the victims of the massacre would be considered illegal, Hong Kong Managing Director Carrie Lam said last month that the answer would depend on whether the protesters commit crimes. crimes under the National Security Act.
Lam further pointed out that the high degree of autonomy that Hong Kong enjoys under the “one country, two systems” principle is not “complete and absolute”, adding that the city must abide by the laws of Beijing and the Party. Chinese Communist, who is celebrating his 100th birthday. in July.
“The Constitution makes it clear that socialism with Chinese characteristics is led by the Chinese Communist Party,” Lam said. “With the premise that we must respect the Constitution, we must also respect the ruling Chinese Communist Party.”
Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance for the Support of Chinese Patriotic Democratic Movements, the group that has been holding vigils since 1990, was sentenced to 14 months in prison last month for participating in the wave of 2019 events.
His deputy, Albert Ho, is also preparing for the announcement of his own conviction. He was put on trial on the 17th of the same day, on the same charges. “I am calm, it was expected. We are not giving up our beliefs. We are not going to give up the vigil, even though I am in jail,” Ho told the South China Morning Post.
Last Sunday (2), Ho and other activists participated in one of the rituals that traditionally mark the start of actions related to the anniversary of the massacre. At the University of Hong Kong, the group washed the “Pillar of Shame”, an eight-meter-high copper sculpture with depiction of twisted and stacked bodies, in memory of the victims.