The former leader of the group behind Hong Kong’s annual Tiananmen Square vigil pleaded guilty on Monday to three unauthorised assembly charges for organising last year’s banned event. Lee Cheuk-yan, the ex-chairman of the now-dissolved Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, was among five defendants who admitted liability at the District Court for their roles in the candlelight vigil in Victoria Park on June 4. Jailed media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying denied inciting others to take part in the illegal gathering, while former alliance vice-chairwoman Chow Hang-tung and activist Gwyneth Ho Kwai-lam each pleaded not guilty to a participation charge. Lee, who is in jail in connection with other unauthorised assembly cases and awaiting a national security law trial, admitted inciting, organising and participating in last year’s vigil. When asked to indicate his plea, he said commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown was a “just cause”. “I have no regrets about mourning June 4,” the former legislator said. Ho said she had no reason to stay silent on the crackdown. “I will plead not guilty no matter if I understand the charge,” she said. “Even if remembering is a crime, how can I remain silent on the truth?” Three former standing committee members of the alliance – Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, Leung Yiu-chung and Simon Leung Kam-wai – have each pleaded guilty to one count of incitement and participation. Ex-chairman of the Democratic Party and former lawmaker Wu Chi-wai also admitted a participation charge. Hong Kong magistrate questions legality of prosecuting disbanded alliance Chow, meanwhile, said she did not require permission from authorities to mourn June 4. Responding to the participation charge read to her in court, Chow said: “I understand every word being uttered, but I do not understand why it constitutes an offence. That is why I plead not guilty.” Judge Amanda Woodcock adjourned sentencing of the five to November 12, after the conclusion of the trial of the other three defendants. Opening the government’s case against the trio, prosecutor Laura Ng Shuk-kuen acknowledged the “strong sentiment” that the annual vigil be held as usual despite the coronavirus pandemic, but said freedom of assembly was not absolute and protecting the community from the deadly disease had to take precedence. She said police were right to follow the recommendation of health officials and ban the vigil, as it could have posed a “very serious” risk to the lives of its participants, their family, friends and “innocent citizens who happened to share the same train compartment or bus with them”. Ng added: “It was hardly a safe time for any large-scale gathering, especially as the Hong Kong alliance was then expecting some 50,000 to 100,000 or more participants to fill the very limited space in Victoria Park on 4 June, 2020.” Hong Kong leader orders removal of June 4 vigil group from Companies Registry The three defendants plan to challenge the legality of the police ban, with Chow further contending that health officials were wrong in finding the event to have posed a high risk of infection. But Ng argued the merits of the police decision was only open for challenge in an appeal board under the Security Bureau, instead of a criminal court. Even if such a challenge was allowed, the prosecutor argued the ban was entirely justified. The trial is expected to last 10 days. The eight people who appeared in court on Monday were among the 26 opposition activists and former politicians charged over the 2020 gathering, which police banned for the first time in 30 years. Half of those charged were previously jailed after pleading guilty to their respective charges, with three others handed suspended sentences. Two other defendants, former politician Nathan Law Kwun-chung and activist Sunny Cheung Kwan-yang, absconded before the trial.