A former leader of the group that organised Hong Kong’s annual Tiananmen vigils has won an appeal against her conviction and sentence over last year’s banned commemoration.

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

Chow Hang-tung, ex-vice-chairperson of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, was convicted of inciting others to take part in an unauthorised assembly and sentenced to 15 months in jail in January.

Wearing black and standing before judge Judianna Barnes at the High Court on Wednesday, Chow appeared surprised and joyful when the results of the appeal were handed down. As court was dismissed, people in the public gallery let out cheers before being told by security guards to quieten down.

The 2021 vigil was banned by police on Covid-19 grounds for the second year in a row. Up until 2020, the Alliance held vigils yearly at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to commemorate the victims of the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen crackdown, when hundreds if not thousands of student-led protesters were killed by the People’s Liberation Army.

June 4 Tiananmen Square Massacre Victoria Park 2021 police barricade
Police flags in Victoria Park warning the public against violating Covid-19 social distancing regulations on June 4, 2021. Photo: Jimmy Lam/HKFP.

While her 15-month sentence, which was meant to end in January, has been repealed, Chow will remain in detention over two national security cases involving the Alliance. One of them, in which she and two other former members of the group stand accused of failing to comply with a national security police data request notice, is currently underway.

The activist has been in custody since September last year.

Police ‘did not fulfil duty’

In a written judgement, Barnes said that in banning the vigil, police had not abided by a section in the Public Order Ordinance that states a public meeting should not be prohibited if conditions could be imposed.

“Although the organisers of the gathering had said they were willing to abide by any measures set out by police… police did not seriously consider this, and did not raise measures or conditions to be considered such as restricting the time during which people can enter the venue, the number of attendants… a requirement for scanning the [Covid-19 app] LeaveHomeSafe, wearing a mask, a ban on eating, etc., that could control the risk of the virus spreading,” Barnes wrote.

High Court
The High Court. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

“In my opinion, the evidence does not show that police fulfilled their duty in accordance with Section 9(4) of the Public Order Ordinance and consider if there were other feasible measures that would allow or facilitate the gathering.”

She added that an experts’ report prepared by the Department of Health and given to police said only that it did not suggest mass gatherings involving unmasked activities and eating, not that it “completely opposed mass gatherings.”

“[I] believe the police did not consider this report when it decided to ban the gathering,” Barnes wrote.

Arrest a ‘disproportionate limit’ to rights

During the initial trial last year, Chow argued that her arrest was a “preventive arrest,” adding that the apprehension and prosecution were a “disproportional limit” to her rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

The 37-year-old was found guilty of inciting others to take part in an unauthorised assembly.

June 4 Tiananmen Square Massacre Victoria Park 2021 police barricade candle
A person holds an electric candle outside police barricades around Victoria Park on June 4, 2021. Photo: Jimmy Lam/HKFP.

The judge at the time said Chow was “self-righteous” and “completely disregarding [of] the law to think that the freedom of assembly was more important than public health.” Her intention, the court ruled, was to incite people to take part in the unauthorised assembly “as quickly as possible,” as she chose to publish her articles on the internet.

Once taking a key role in Hong Kong’s efforts to commemorate the victims of the 1989 military crackdown, Chow was the last vice-chairperson of the Alliance before members voted for the group to disband in September last year.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.