Three former leaders of the group which once organised Hong Kong’s annual mass Tiananmen vigils have filed an appeal against conviction and sentence for refusing to comply with a data demand from national security police.

Chow Hang-tung, Tang Ngok-kwan, and Tsui Hon-kwong, former standing committee members of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, filed the appeal to the High Court on Tuesday.

Hong Kong Alliance
Chow Hang-tung (left) handing an open letter to the police on September 7, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The trio were sentenced to four-and-a-half months in jail earlier in March by Principal Magistrate Peter Law after they were convicted of  failing to comply with a notice from national security police demanding information.

Tang and Tsui were granted bail pending appeal, while Chow, the former vice-chairperson of the Alliance, rejected bail “on grounds of freedom of expression.”

As part of their bail conditions, the defendants are barred from accepting any interviews or making any speeches that could be deemed as endangering national security.

Chow has been remanded in custody since September 2021. The barrister is also charged in a separate national security case along with the Alliance, and two of the group’s ex-leader Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho, for allegedly inciting subversion.

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

National security police served a notice on the group in August 2021, demanding information including personal data on the Alliance’s committee members and full-time staff since its establishment in 1989.

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.
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 group was arrested in September that year after they held a press conference and went to the police headquarters saying that they would not comply with the demand.

According to the implementation rules of the Beijing-imposed national security law, the police chief can issue a notice demanding information to foreign and Taiwan political organisations and their “agents.”

During the trial, the Alliance was accused of being an agent for an unidentified foreign entity referred to as “Organisation 4.” Prosecutors refused to disclose some information during the trial, claiming that this would harm the ongoing investigation and damage the public interest.

Law ruled at the beginning of the trial that the prosecution did not have to prove that the Alliance was in fact a foreign agent. He also ruled that the defendants could challenge the legality of the notice.

When handing down his verdict, the magistrate ruled it was necessary to demand information from the defunct group.

Peter Law
Peter Law. Photo: Judiciary.

“Since [the Alliance] had been running actively with various entities and people aboard, it is necessary to explore their dealings, connections, monetary flows and assets in order to find out their affiliation and ultimate purpose,” Law wrote.

Members voted to disband the Alliance soon after its leaders were arrested. For decades until the final event in 2019 the group had organised Hong Kong’s annual mass vigils in Victoria Park to commemorate victims of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the police have barred the commemorations, citing health concerns. Before that, Hong Kong was one of the very few places on Chinese soil where authorities allowed such an event.

The Tiananmen crackdown on June 4, 1989 ended months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, died when the People’s Liberation Army was deployed against 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.