HONG KONG -- Hong Kong police on Thursday notified Jimmy Lai, founder of the Apple Daily newspaper, and three other prominent pro-democracy activists that they will face charges over their roles in holding an unauthorized vigil to commemorate the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.
Even though authorities banned the event for the first time in three decades citing coronavirus concerns, thousands still gathered in Victoria Park and other parts of the city.
The other three notified by the police are former legislators Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho Chun-yan, as well as Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, another veteran of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the group that has organized the annual vigil for the past 30 years.
The move came as the British government expressed concerns about diminishing freedoms in Hong Kong in a bi-annual report published Thursday.
"The overall situation regarding rights and freedoms deteriorated during the reporting period. Politicians and human rights defenders suffered violent attacks," the report noted.
Lee, chair of the alliance, told reporters in a recorded message on Thursday that he received a call from the police around 6 p.m. local time informing him of the charge.
"This is all expected," he said. "When you look at the overall Hong Kong situation, you can witness actually now the police are abusing the power to arrest and also the department of justice is abusing the power to prosecute and trying to threaten the people of Hong Kong when we are exercising our rights to assembly."
According to a Facebook post by the alliance on Thursday evening, the trio were told that they would be charged for "inciting others to participate in an unauthorized assembly." The case will be brought to court on June 23. The group said it was unclear if others would be charged for participating in the vigil.
The four men are among 15 activists who were already charged in April for their involvement in protests last year, with the police citing illegal assembly.
"[For] the Hong Kong Alliance, we believe we have the right to mourn June 4 and have a rally to condemn the massacre," Lee said, noting that the event went on peacefully and was without incident. "The police should not have any excuse to suppress peaceful expression."
The alliance vowed to uphold the vigils despite the arrest. "We will not be afraid. We will continue to pass on the candlelights in the Victoria Park and protest against the Communist Party's brutal rule," it said in a statement.
Additional reporting by Zach Coleman, Stella Wong and Michelle Chan in Hong Kong.