Nine Hong Kong activists and ex-lawmakers were sentenced to up to ten months in prison on Wednesday for their roles in last year's unlawful Tiananmen Square candlelight vigil, the latest blow in the city's escalating crackdown on dissent.
The nine are among a group of 12 people who pleaded guilty earlier this month to taking part in the vigil, which was the sole large-scale public remembrance of the 1989 Beijing crackdown on student-led protests on Chinese soil. Three additional people were handed probation.
They were all accused of participating in an unauthorized assembly, with seven of them also facing charges of inciting others to do so.
For the first time in three decades, police prohibited the annual vigil last year, citing public health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic. Critics say the prohibition is part of a crackdown on dissent in the Chinese province after months of anti-government demonstrations in 2019.
Over a dozen activists attended the June 4 vigil despite the ban, and hundreds more followed suit. Despite police warnings, the crowds smashed through barriers around the Victoria Park site to light candles and sing songs.
Over 20 activists were arrested afterward, including leaders of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, which organizes the annual vigil.
Some of those jailed on Wednesday, including lawyer Albert Ho and Figo Chan, the former leader of the now-defunct Civil Human Rights Front, had already been sentenced to prison for other unauthorized gatherings.
Eight other activists charged with the Tiananmen Square vigil last year, including Jimmy Lai, the publisher of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper, and alliance leader Lee Cheuk-yan, have pleaded not guilty and will go on trial in November.
Joshua Wong, a well-known pro-democracy activist, and three others had earlier pleaded guilty to their roles in the incident and received sentences ranging from four to ten months in prison.
Beijing passed a broad national security law on Hong Kong in June, targeting secession, subversion, terrorism, and foreign interference in the city's affairs. The national security statute has resulted in the detention of over 100 people.
Officials in Beijing and Hong Kong have been chastised for reversing 50 years of promises made to Hong Kong when the former British colony was handed over to China in 1997.