Jailed Hong Kong dissident Joshua Wong pleaded guilty taking part in an "unlawful" Tiananmen Square protest last year

Hong Kong (AFP) - Jailed Hong Kong dissident Joshua Wong was handed an additional 10-month sentence on Thursday after he pleaded guilty to taking part in an “unlawful” protest last year over the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Hong Kong has regularly marked the anniversary of Beijing’s deadly 1989 repression of protests in Tiananmen Square with huge candlelight vigils.

But last year’s event was banned for the first time, with police citing the coronavirus pandemic and security fears following huge democracy protests that roiled Hong Kong the year before.

Tens of thousands defied the ban and massed peacefully at the vigil’s traditional site in Victoria Park.

Since then prosecutors have brought charges against more than two dozen prominent democracy activists who showed up at the vigil, the latest in a string of criminal cases that have ensnared the city’s beleaguered democracy movement.

On Thursday, four of those activists – Joshua Wong, Lester Shum, Tiffany Yuen and Janelle Leung – were handed jail terms after pleading guilty to unlawful assembly charges last month.

Wong – one of the most recognisable faces of Hong Kong’s democracy movement – is currently serving a total of 17.5 months in jail for two convictions linked to the 2019 protests.

Judge Stanley Chan handed the 24-year-old a consecutive 10 months of jail for the new conviction which will start once current sentences are finished.

“The sentence should deter people from offending and reoffending in the future,” Chan said.

Shum, 27, was given six months while Yuen, 27, and Leung, 26, were both handed four months.

Wong, Shum and Yuen have also been charged under a new national security law Beijing imposed on the city last year.

- Will this year’s rally go ahead? -

Tens of thousands massed peacefully last year for a banned vigil marking the anniversary of Beijing's deadly 1989 repression of Tiananmen Square protests

Ahead of Thursday’s sentencing they were being held in pre-trial detention and face up to life in prison if convicted under the new security law.

The other defendants – who include some of the city’s most prominent activists, many of them also jailed or in detention – will be tried later this summer.

The annual Tiananmen vigil remembering victims of the 1989 suppression of pro-democracy protests has taken on particular significance as many Hong Kongers chafe under Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian rule.

Crowds grew in size in recent years, often chanting slogans like “End one party rule” and calling for democracy in China.

But it is unclear if Hong Kong will ever see another legal Tiananmen vigil.

Beijing has rolled out a sweeping crackdown against critics in the finance hub, with scores of opposition figures in detention, facing prosecution or fleeing overseas.

As well as the security law, a new campaign dubbed “patriots rule Hong Kong” will ensure everyone standing for public office is vetted for political loyalty first.

Officials have already signalled that this year’s Tiananmen vigil will be refused permission both as a security risk and because of the coronavirus.

Some have also suggested that chanting “End one party rule” – as well as the vigil itself – could now be illegal under the new law, which criminalises a wide array of acts deemed to be subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces.

Chow Hang-tung, a barrister and a member of the coalition that organises the annual vigil, criticised Thursday’s sentencing.

“The court has failed to draw a line between what is really unlawful, that is violence activities and what is completely within our rights — peaceful assembly,” she told reporters.

But Judge Chan said the four defendants’ attendance at the vigil was “deliberate, premeditated… and openly defied the law.”

Protests can only go ahead in Hong Kong with police permission, something that has been routinely denied since the 2019 protests and subsequent coronavirus outbreak.

Chow said Hong Kongers would still mark each Tiananmen anniversary, even if the traditional vigil is banned.

“We will find a way to remember this and we will find a way to publicly do this,” she said.