The now-defunct organiser of Hong Kong’s annual Tiananmen Massacre vigils never asked the public to go to Victoria Park last June 4 after the police banned the vigil citing Covid-19 health concerns, the vice-chairperson’s lawyer argued in court.

Chow Hang-tung, the vice-chairperson of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, appeared in the District Court on Friday as she was accused of taking part, and inciting others to take part, in the 31st anniversary commemorative candlelight vigil.

Chow Hang-tung. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai and activist Gwyneth Ho were the other two defendants who appeared in court alongside Chow before Judge Amanda Woodcock. All three pleaded not guilty to inciting others to participate in, or themselves taking part in, an unauthorised assembly.

Barrister Cheung Yiu-leung, representing Chow, presented his final arguments on Friday. He said that Chow never, in any of her public speeches, told people to attend the event.

Chow and other members of the Alliance entered the park on that evening, and Cheung said that they did so as part of “their own personal capacity.” The group had told reporters that they would do so after the police notified them that the vigil was prohibited.

Cheung said that the “inner circle” of the Alliance walked into Victoria Park and lit candles on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre “ritualistically.” As it was a socially important event, the barrister argued that “people will still gather there” even in the absence of the Alliance.

Citing transcripts of video clips played in court, Cheung said that Chow repeatedly asked people to join the Alliance’s online vigil, and light up candles “at a place convenient to you.”

“If there was to be an incitement from [Chow], she must have been inciting people to join an online commemoration assembly,” Cheung said, and that one does not have to notify the police for an online assembly.

The annual vigil at Victoria Park on June 4, 2020, to commemorate victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. Photo: May James/HKFP.

The prosecution, during the trial, cited a Facebook post published by Chow, in which she wrote “Off I go, see you tonight.” Cheung said that, while the prosecution relied on the post to say that Chow was inciting people to take part in the public gathering, “we cannot apply strict linguistic rules to what was published on social media.”

The defence counsel also said that the police ban on the vigil was “disproportionate,” as – in May last year – schools were allowed to reopen, and that the situation was improving.

“As far as May 2020 was concerned, the epidemic was improving, there was no reason why [the] June 4th usual candlelight vigil should not proceed like before,” said Cheung.

The Tiananmen crackdown occurred on June 4, 1989 ending months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, died when the People’s Liberation Army cracked down on protesters in Beijing.

Legal definition of ‘public meeting’

Barrister Allison Wong, representing Ho, gave her closing statement in court after Cheung. She submitted arguments on the criminal elements of the participation in an unauthorised assembly charge. She examined the definitions of a public meeting and the purpose of a public meeting.

Ho was accused of taking part in the banned vigil, but she testified in cross-examination earlier this week that she was not in Victoria Park to commemorate the 1989 massacre, but to “resist the police ban.”

Wong argued that the prosecution was referring specifically to an assembly organised by the Alliance. Therefore, the prosecution was adding more purposes that were not intended by the organiser by claiming that the public meeting was also open for people to “express their discontent against the Communist party and the Hong Kong government.”

Gwyneth Ho. File photo: Gwyneth Ho, via Facebook.

The barrister also said that the prosecution could not prove that the vigil was the only public meeting held inside Victoria Park that evening, as there might have also been “other gathering[s] of people holding different opinions.”

After Wong completed her submission, the prosecution, led by Senior Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Laura Ng, made some points of reply to the defendants’ closing statements. Ng argued against Lai’s representative Senior Counsel Robert Pang’s argument that the police should have made suggestions to the Alliance about what Covid-19 precautionary measures they could take.

“We acknowledge that the Hong Kong police have a positive duty [to facilitate assemblies], but it is not to say that the police have to think and decide for the organiser about what is the best to do,” said Ng.

The judge will hand down the verdict on December 9.

Lai is currently serving jail sentences for other protest-related charges, while Chow and Ho are in remand over other cases.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.