Accusations that the organiser of Hong Kong’s annual Tiananmen vigil acted as a foreign agent amounts to “political persecution,” the group’s former leader Chow Hang-tung has testified during a national security trial.
Chow, who was the vice chairperson of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, appeared at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Tuesday along with two other former standing committee members of the group, Tang Ngok-kwan and Tsui Hon-kwong.
The trio, appearing in front of hand-picked national security judge Principal Magistrate Peter Law, stand accused of failing to comply with a national security police data request notice.
Chow, representing herself in court, gave evidence after Law ruled last Saturday that the defendants had a case to answer.
According to the implementation rules of the security legislation, the police chief, upon approval from the secretary for security, can issue a notice requesting data such as financial information from foreign or Taiwan political groups, or their agents.
The Alliance has been accused of acting as an agent for an unnamed “Organisation 4,” with the prosecution saying the group had received HK$20,000 from the unidentified entity.
Chow, who is also a barrister, said on Tuesday that the Alliance was not a foreign agent and there was “absolutely no reason” to believe so.
Chow also said that the HK$20,000 from “Organisation 4,” which she said was the Japan branch of the Federation for a Democratic China, was collected as part of a crowd-funding campaign for the expansion of the June 4th Museum.
The Alliance bought a property for HK$8 million in Mong Kok for the museum in 2019, said Chow, adding that the donation from the federation amounted to one four-hundredth of the total amount.
Some details of the case, including the identities of organisations and individuals that the Alliance was said to be linked to, have been concealed after the prosecution applied for Public Interest Immunity, saying that the disclosure of such materials would harm public interests.
Chow, testifying in Cantonese on Tuesday, also detailed her history with the Alliance. She first joined as a part-time staff member in early 2010, and was later elected as vice-chairperson in 2015.
The Alliance’s highest decisions were reached at its general meeting, and its daily operations were dealt with by the standing committee, which was elected by member-groups, Chow said.
“If an organisation that is democratically formed and run by such a large number of civil society groups is said to be a foreign agent, you are not insulting an organisation or a few standing committee members, you are insulting the entirety of the Hong Kong civil society, and obliterating its autonomy,” Chow said.
The Alliance had also been smeared with accusations of the group being a foreign agent, and the government could not prove that the Alliance was in fact a foreign agent, Chow said.
Secretary for Security Chris Tang said in September last year that the Alliance was a foreign agent, although he did not provide any proof, Chow said, presenting a statement of a speech made by Tang prior to her arrest that month.
Despite not having sufficient evidence, Tang still made those “irresponsible accusations,” said Chow, adding that it was those accusations that led to the arrests and disbandment of the Alliance.
“The irreversible damage has been done, now if you say that ‘actually we cannot prove our accusation, what can you do,’” said the vice-chairperson.
“If this is not blatant political persecution, what is this?”
Chow also said that the Alliance only served the interests of the people of the country.
“If we have to use the language of interests, China’s democracy and Hong Kong’s freedom are the interests of the people in this country, how can we say that this is foreign interest?”
In the afternoon, the prosecution, led by prosecutor Ivan Cheung, cross-examined Chow.
The prosecutor questioned the intention of Chow’s decision to testify in Cantonese instead of English, as he said that the defendant was capable of expressing herself in English.
Cheung questioned whether Chow was attempting to create possible grounds for appeal on potential translation errors, or if she intended for the people sitting in the public gallery to hear her testimony and report it.
The barrister said in response that she elected to testify in Cantonese as she wanted to use the “most accurate” language for her to give evidence.
“Of course when I give evidence I want people here to hear,” Chow said, adding, “I don’t understand your question,” to Cheung.
Cheung also questioned whether Chow was the person who made the trial political, to which the barrister said: “the nature of the trial is political.”
Chow also admitted to not submitting the required information to the police, as she said that since the Alliance was not a foreign agent, the relevant section in the implementation rule did not apply to the group.
The barrister will continue her testimony on Saturday.
Two other defendants in the case, Simon Leung and Chan To-wai, pleaded guilty to the charge and were sentenced to three months in prison.
The Alliance, which organised the city’s annual Tiananmen vigils, disbanded in September last year following a members’ vote. Chow has been remanded in custody for over a year since last September, and had since been sentenced to prison over two banned vigils.
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.
The vice-chairperson is also facing prosecution with two other ex-leaders of the Alliance under a separate national security charge: incitement to subversion.
During Tuesday’s trial, Cheung also asked whether Chow was aware that her testimony in this case could “affect the other trial in another case,” to which the barrister said that she was aware.