West Kowloon Court has transferred a case against 26 leading pro-democracy activists over the June 4 candlelight vigil this year to the District Court, where the defendants could face longer sentences if convicted.
The defendants include media tycoon Jimmy Lai, pan-democratic lawmakers Wu Chi-wai and Andrew Wan, activist Joshua Wong, and the leaders of the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China.
They have been charged with inciting, organising or taking part in an unauthorised assembly at Victoria Park that night, after the police banned the event citing social gathering restrictions.
It was the first time authorities did not give permission for the annual gathering to take place, but thousands of people still turned up to mark the crackdown at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Principal Magistrate Peter Law also heard that arrest warrants have been issued against two of the defendants, Nathan Law and Sunny Cheung, who have fled Hong Kong.
No reason was given by the magistrate as to why the case would be transferred to District Court. A hearing was set for November 3.
Speaking before his court appearance, one of those charged, Lee Cheuk-yan, said authorities just want to transfer their cases to a higher court so the activists can be given harsher punishments.
"The message is very clear. Even peaceful protests, they will also suppress, they will also prosecute, they will also seek higher penalties," he said.
Lee said this showed that the authorities are trying their best to punish Hong Kong people who oppose the government and the Chinese Communist Party.
He said organisers will still arrange a June 4 vigil next year, despite the enactment of the national security law.