Media boss Jimmy Lai, 2 others guilty over banned June 4 vigil in Hong Kong court ruling
Media tycoon Jimmy Lai and two other Hong Kong democracy activists were found guilty of defying a police ban on a June 4 candlelight memorial last year, a judge ruled on Thursday.
Defendants Lai, Chow Hang-tung and Gwyneth Ho variously took part and incited others to take part in the unauthorized assembly at Victoria Park, Judge Amanda Woodcock said in the District Court.
Woodcock rejected the testimony given by Chow and Ho in court as “frankly nonsensical”, saying that both were at times evasive and abstruse during cross-examination for the purpose of being provocative and argumentative.
“Their evidence was a poor attempt to either negate or repudiate evidence that was overwhelming and undisputed,” she said, finding Chow guilty of both charges while convicting Lai and Ho of one charge each.
With the judgment, the court is close to wrapping up a case that originally involved 26 defendants, of whom 21 have pleaded guilty. Woodcock will hear the mitigation pleas of the Lai, Chow and Ho on Monday, following which she will pass sentence.
The 26 had faced prosecution that included taking part and inciting others to take part in the banned candlelight vigil to commemorate the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing, contrary to common law and the Public Order Ordinance. Sixteen of them pleaded guilty before the trial started on November 1 and have since received sentences of four to 10 months in jail.
Another five admitted guilt on the first day of the trial, including Lee Cheuk-yan, former chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which previously organized the June 4 vigil on a yearly basis.
Their guilty pleas reduced the number of people on trial to just three, namely Lai, Chow and Ho, who proceeded to contest their charges. Two other defendants, including former student leader Nathan Law, have fled Hong Kong and are wanted by the police.
In a judgment handed down by Woodcock on Thursday, Lai and Chow are convicted of inciting others to take part in the unauthorized assembly on June 4 last year, while Chow and Ho, a former journalist, are guilty of participation in the event.
Woodcock ruled that an unauthorized assembly was indeed held on the night of June 4 by the alliance, which had announced in advance it would still enter Victoria Park to hold a vigil despite the police ban. News footage showed many people did follow the alliance into the venue, and when Lee appealed to “friends here” to observe a minute of silence, many people inside the park did so, the judge said.
2020.6.4 Jimmy Lai stood outside the space of Victoria Park on 4th June 2020.
Photo by YP LAM
On the defendant Lai, Woodcock noted that after the police made known their decision to ban the vigil, he gave an interview on Apple Daily online news, in which he spoke about the significance of having candlelight on June 4.
Then on the day itself, Lai arrived at the park’s water fountain plaza to join the alliance’s press conference and candle-lighting ceremony at 6.30pm, Woodcock wrote in her judgment.
Lai’s talk of candlelight in the interview gave an indication of why he was present at the water fountain that night, she said.
“His presence at that press conference was a deliberate act to rally support for and publicly spotlight the unauthorized assembly that followed. He need not use words of incitement to intend to incite others,” the judgment read.
“Clearly he was there to support the Hong Kong alliance and did lend his support to their aim and that was, in my findings, to hold an unauthorized assembly despite the police ban and incite others to join them.”
Lee Cheuk-yan and Chow Hang-tung, former chairman and vice-chairwoman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, turned up among others at Victoria Park in June 4, 2020. (File photo)
Regarding defendant Chow, Woodcock said that the former alliance vice-chairwoman was standing with Lee while he made a speech at the water fountain. Lee’s speech showed an intention by the alliance to hold an unauthorized assembly at the park despite the ban, the judge wrote.
Chow handed out candles and leaflets near the water fountain plaza before the 6.30pm press conference, made references to the alliance going into the park and lighting candles, and said they would not let the Victoria Park candlelight be extinguished.
The judge cited one of Chow’s Facebook posts as clearly referring to those who would join her at the park that night. Although Chow did not specifically appeal to people or invite them to join her, the implicit intention was there as she signed off with “see you tonight”.
Chow’s defense was a weak attempt to deflect the truth, the judge said, finding that she had an intention to publicly and openly defy the police ban.
Woodcock said the prosecution had proven beyond reasonable doubt that what was said and done as a group gathered at the water fountain plaza was an intention by Lai and Chow to unlawfully incite others to knowingly take part in the unauthorized assembly on June 4.
Former journalist Gwyneth Ho, turned up among others at Victoria Park in June 4, 2020. (File photo)
The judge rejected Ho’s defense argument that she had turned up at the park for her own purpose. Ho’s Facebook post and her carrying of a bunch of white flowers and a lit candle showed that she was indeed attending the vigil. The judge said she was also sure Ho was there to protest against the police ban as well.
Woodcock did not accept a claim by Ho’s defense lawyer that the June 4 gathering had been spontaneous and initiated by individuals. “I am sure from the evidence proved by the prosecution that [Ho] was indeed knowingly participating in an unauthorized assembly intentionally held by the Hong Kong alliance,” she said.
During the trial, questions were raised as to whether criminalizing participation in a peaceful assembly amounted to over-restriction of the right of freedom of assembly, and whether the maximum five years in jail under the ordinance would cast a chilling effect on people who wished to exercise their right to freedom of assembly.
Woodcock pointed to a case of former legislator Leung Kwok-hung in 2005 and another of Lai and others this year as binding precedents. She concluded that the relevant clauses in the ordinance were constitutional.
On Monday, the court will hear pleas in mitigation from Lai, Chow and Ho, and also pass sentence on Lee and the other four who admitted guilt at the beginning of the trial.