A former leader of the now-defunct organiser of Hong Kong’s annual Tiananmen Massacre vigils has been been jailed for 15 months after she was found guilty of inciting others to take part in last year’s banned commemoration.

Former vice-chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China and barrister Chow Hang-tung was convicted and sentenced on Tuesday by magistrate Amy Chan at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts.

Chow Hang-tung. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The 36-year-old was found guilty of inciting others to take part in an unauthorised assembly, after the police banned last year’s Tiananmen Massacre commemoration for the second year in a row, citing Covid-19 health concerns.

Chan sentenced Chow to 15 months behind bars. The barrister was already serving a 12-month prison sentence after she was convicted last December of inciting participation and taking part in the banned vigil in 2020.

The magistrate ordered 10 months of Tuesday’s jail sentence to be served consecutively with Chow’s current prison term, meaning that she will be incarcerated for a total of 22 months.

‘Completely disregarding the law’

The court ruled that Chow’s intention was obviously to incite people to take part in the unauthorised assembly “as quickly as possible,” as she chose to publish her articles on the internet, and to publish an article on the day of the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre.

Magistrate Chan slammed Chow as being “self-righteous and completely disregarding the law to think that the freedom of assembly was more important than public health.” She also said the barrister did not make a mitigation plea in court, but instead was making a “catharsis of political views over June 4th.”

Police flag in Victoria Park warning members of the public against taking part in an unauthorised assembly. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The starting point of Chow’s sentencing was set at 12 months in jail, but it was raised to 15 months after Chan said Chow had committed the offence while on bail. The barrister responded by saying her previous charge required no bail because it was a court summons case. Chan then questioned how the case reached the District Court, saying it was “impossible.”

After the prosecution sought details of Chow’s previous case, Chan stuck with her original sentencing and said it was a “technical problem” as Chow still breached the law pending trial.

‘Not forthcoming’

During the trial, Chow had challenged the validity of the police decision to ban last year’s Tiananmen Massacre vigil, saying that the police commissioner could not use public health as a reason to prohibit the Alliance’s application under the Public Order Ordinance.

Chan ruled that while the term public health was not mentioned in the ordinance, it was covered under the broader “public safety,” which also included risks and threats to the lives of the general public and their health.

Victoria Park was empty on June 4 for the first time in 32 years in 2021. Photo: Jimmy Lam/HKFP.

The magistrate also ruled that the criminal court was not a place for Chow to challenge the police ban, as there was an appeal mechanism for the applicant of the public assembly – the Alliance in this case – to challenge the police prohibition.

While the barrister also argued that her arrest and prosecution were an “disproportional limit” to her rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, Chan said in her judgement that those rights were not “absolute.”

Chan also rejected Chow’s argument that her arrest was a “preventive arrest,” and said that since the police apprehended her following the publication of her articles, the reason for her arrest was “obvious.”

The magistrate further ruled that while the barrister’s articles did not explicitly tell people to gather at Victoria Park, the gist of her article was obvious.

Chow was also said by the magistrate to be “not forthcoming” and “evasive” during cross-examination, and that her testimony in court was an attempt to “divert attention.”

No political expressions court

In her mitigation plea on Tuesday, Chow said that while it had only been a little over six months since the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, “June 4th has turned quickly from a baseline of conscience to a dangerous redline.”

West Kowloon Magistrates Courts. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

She could foresee that “room for discussing June 4th” on public platforms will diminish further following the closure of Apple Daily, Stand News, and Citizen News, Chow told the court, adding that it was “necessary” for her to write the two articles at the time “when there was still room for discussing June 4th.”

“No matter how the court justifies itself…it is participating in the project of washing [away] June 4th,” the barrister said.

The former Alliance vice-chair then said that there was “a need for the court to hear the stories of those who died on June 4th.”

Chow proceeded to read out recollections from three families of victims in the Tiananmen Massacre, but was stopped by Chan before she began reading out a fourth account, as the magistrate said that the court was not a place for “expressions of political demands.”

Upon hearing the magistrate, Chow said that those who died in the Tiananmen Square crackdown were “the real victims in this case,” and that “there was a greater need for their voices to be heard by the court than my own personal mitigation.”

The Tiananmen Massacre 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.

People in the public gallery erupted in applause following the barrister’s response, and Chan told police officers to record the identity card number of those people who clapped, saying that the court was “not a stage for performance.”

Two people then stood up and said they were part of those who applauded, and around of a dozen people walked out of the court room along with several police officers.

The Alliance outside the District Court on May 5, 2021 after four activists, including Joshua Wong, were sentenced to jail for taking part in the banned Tiananmen Massacre vigil in 2020. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

In her closing statement delivered in early December last year, Chow, who represented herself, urged the court not to  engage in “the trial of speech,” and that it was dangerous to “open the gates of literary inquisition.”

The barrister is also pending trial under the Beijing-imposed national security law, after she, along with two other former leaders of the Alliance and the organisation itself, were accused of inciting subversion.

Chow was also accused of refusing to comply with a national security police data request in last September, an offence which she had pleaded not guilty to.

Disbanded Alliance

Once taking a key role in Hong Kong’s efforts in commemorating victims of the military crackdown on student-led protests in Beijing on June 4th, 1989, Chow was the last vice-chairperson of the Alliance before the group disbanded after a members’ vote in September.

Several former leaders and members of the vigil organiser, including former lawmakers Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho, were jailed over protest-related charges or are pending trial.

National security police also froze assets worth around HK$2.2 million following a raid at the Alliance’s premises in September last year.

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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.