Three former members of the defunct organiser of Hong Kong’s annual Tiananmen vigils have been sentenced to four-and-a-half months in jail after they were convicted of not complying with a national security police data request.

Chow Hang-tung, Tang Ngok-kwan, and Tsui Hon-kwong appeared at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Saturday in front of Principal Magistrate Peter Law, one of the city’s handpicked national security judges.

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

All three were former standing committee members of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the group behind the city’s annual candlelight vigils to remember the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown.

Two other defendants, Simon Leung and Chan To-wai, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to three months in prison.

Chow, Tang and Tsui were convicted last Saturday of failing to comply with a notice from national security police demanding information.

According to the implementation rules of the Beijing-imposed national security law, after receiving approval from the secretary for security, the police chief can issue a notice to foreign political groups and their agents demanding information including financial records.

LAW Tak-chuen, Peter 羅德泉.JPG
Principal Magistrate Peter Law. Photo: Judiciary.

Law ruled last week that the police notice issued to the Alliance was legal, and that it was necessary to demand information from the group.

‘The only way to be human’

In her mitigation submission, Chow said that the Alliance was not a foreign agent, and that “nothing has emerged in this year long ordeal that proves otherwise.”

“To sentence us in such circumstances is about punishing people for defending the truth,” Chow said.

Tang Ngok-kwan
Tiananmen vigil activist Tang Ngok-kwan holds a sheet of paper with the title “three stages of June 4th,” and a book about Chinese writer Lu Xun ahead of a court hearing on March 4, 2023. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Law interrupted Chow’s submission on several occasions, saying that what the barrister said was “irrelevant to mitigation,” and that the court must not be “a back door” for expressing political views.

Prosecutor Ivan Cheung said the prosecution supported the court’s observation, and said that particular sections of Chow’s submission were “doing herself a disservice,” and were inappropriate in court.

Chow, who was able to finish her statement despite the interruption, said that they will “continue doing what we have always done.”

“Sir, sentence us for our insubordination if you must, but when the exercise of power is based on lies, being insubordinate is the only way to be human,” Chow said.

Tsui Hon-kwong
Tiananmen vigil activist Tsui Hon-kwong ahead of a court hearing on March 4, 2023. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Senior counsel Philip Dykes, representing both Tang and Tsui on Saturday, urged the court to pass a more lenient sentence due to the circumstances of the case.

Dykes said that the defendants found themselves “in a unique position,” as while they were being convicted for being a foreign agent, the identity of the foreign organisation was not known to them.

The senior counsel also said that he could not say “how strong or weak” the link between the Alliance and the undisclosed foreign organisation was.

West Kowloon Law Courts Building.
West Kowloon Law Courts Building. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

“It could be a foreign government or body that PRC has good relations with,” said Dykes. The senior counsel asked the court to sentence them on the basis that the link was not a real threat to national security.

Sentence ‘must reflect law’s determination’

When handing down the sentence, Law adopted a starting point of four-and-a-half months and gave no reduction.

The magistrate said that Chow had presented her “political rationale” and criticised the law and the case, which were “all irrelevant to mitigation.”

In full: Chow Hang-tung’s speech, as shared on Facebook – click to view.

Chow’s speech, as shared on Facebook – a version of which was uttered in court.

Your Worship, we know as a matter of fact that we are no foreign agents. And nothing has emerged in this year-long ordeal that proves otherwise. To sentence in such circumstances is about punishing people for defending the truth.

The truth is that national security is being used as a hollow pretext to wage an all-out war on civil society. The truth is that our movement for human rights and democracy is home-grown and not some sinister foreign implant. The truth is that people here have a voice of their own that will not be silenced.

The Alliance is no stranger to the cost of speaking truth to power. We should know as we have been guarding the truth of the Tiananmen Massacre for over 30 years, and have campaigned for many of those jailed and harassed and humiliated for telling their truth. We have long been prepared to pay the price.

With the notices and the degrading designation as foreign agent, the government was effectively saying to us, bend your knees, betray your friends, betray your cause, accept the state’s absolute authority to know all and decide all, and you shall have peace.

What we are saying with our action is simply one word: Never. An unjust peace is no peace at all. Never will we surrender our independence from the state. Never will we help delegitimize our own movement by endorsing the government’s false narrative. Never will we treat ourselves and our friends as potential criminals just because the government says we are.

Instead we will continue doing what we have always done, that is to fight falsehood with truth, indignity with dignity, secrecy with openness, madness with reason, division with solidarity. We will fight these injustices wherever we must, be it on the streets, in the courtroom, or from a prison cell. This is a battle we will fight head on, here in the city we call home. For our freedom to be ourselves is at stake, for the future of our city – and even of the whole world – is at stake.

Your Worship, today’s hearing comes at an ironic time. While fake people’s representatives are having their grand gathering in Beijing, busy endorsing one man’s wishes as that of the nation’s, genuine voices of the people are being denied that recognition in this courtroom. When the nation’s interest is defined as one party, or indeed, one person, so-called “national security” would inevitably become a threat to the people’s rights and security – as demonstrated by Tiananmen, by Xinjiang, and indeed Hong Kong. And it is a threat that can spill over the national border, as we have seen in Ukraine, and dare I say, Taiwan if the court is sincerely concerned about national security. What it should focus on is reigning in unaccountable state power, not some imagined foreign agents.

Sir, sentence us for our insubordination if you must, but when the exercise of power is based on lies, being insubordinate is the only way to be human.

“National security is the cardinal importance to public interest and the whole nation, the law must ensure safeguarding national security is preserved,” said Law.

The magistrate said that the sentence “must reflect the law’s determination” in safeguarding national security, and “send a clear message” to the public that the law would not condone any violation.

“There is a need to impose a sentence that is punitive and sufficiently deterrent.”

Bail granted, rejected by Chow

After the sentence was handed down, all three defendants applied for bail pending appeal.

The prosecution initially wanted the magistrate to uphold reporting restrictions, but Law said that there was no reason to do so as the case was already open.

💡Under court reporting restrictions on bail proceedings, written and broadcast reports are limited to only include the result of a bail application, the name of the person applying for bail and their representation, and the offence concerned.
Tsui Hon-kwong (left) and Tang Ngok-kwan leave the West Kowloon Law Courts Building after being granted bail pending the appeal of their national security case, on March 11, 2023. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.
Tsui Hon-kwong (left) and Tang Ngok-kwan leave the West Kowloon Law Courts Building after being granted bail pending the appeal of their national security case, on March 11, 2023. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The magistrate granted bail to all three defendants. Conditions included that they could not accept any interviews or make any speeches that could endanger national security.

However, Chow rejected bail, saying that she could not accept it “on grounds of freedom of expression.”

Chow, who was the former vice-chairperson of the Alliance, has been remanded in custody since September 2021. She has also been charged with inciting subversion in another national security case with two ex-leaders of the Alliance and the defunct organisation.

The Alliance disbanded soon after its members were arrested.

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.

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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.