Hong Kong’s Chow Hang-tung jailed in second Tiananmen vigil case

Prominent activist jailed for 15 months in second conviction over banned Tiananmen Square vigils.

Activist Chow Hang-tung poses with a candle to remember Tiananmen Square in 1989
Chow Hang-tung poses with a candle ahead of the 32nd anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, in Hong Kong, China, on June 3, 2021. [File: Lam Yik/ Reuters]

A prominent Hong Kong activist has been sentenced to 15 months in prison for incitement for a banned vigil to commemorate those who died in Beijing’s crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Chow Hang-tung, the former vice chairwoman of the now-disbanded Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, was handed the new jail term in the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday.

The 36-year-old lawyer is already serving a 12-month sentence on charges of participating in and inciting, an unauthorised assembly for her role in the 2020 vigil.

Police have banned the June 4 vigils, usually an annual event, for the past two years, citing the pandemic.

But after the mass pro-democracy protests in 2019, many activists saw the bans as an attempt to shut down displays of defiance to Beijing. Authorities denied that was the reason.

Despite the ban, thousands lit candles across the city in 2020, and smaller crowds did the same in 2021.

During Chow’s trial, prosecutors said the activist had incited others to take part in the vigil through articles published on her Facebook account and in the Ming Pao newspaper.

Chow, who represented herself, pleaded not guilty to the charges, saying she wanted to “incite others not to forget June 4” and not to encourage a gathering.

In delivering a verdict, Magistrate Amy Chan said that the assembly caused “a public health risk” and that Chow’s articles amounted to inciting others to defy the police ban.

Chan said the activist had been “determined to attract and publish attention for the purpose of calling on the public to gather”.

Chan said five months of the sentence announced on Tuesday will run concurrently, meaning Chow will serve 10 months in addition to her current sentence.

‘Tyranny is greedy’

The activist proved a fiery defendant throughout her trial.

She used her mitigation on Tuesday to read from the memoirs of families of people killed at Tiananmen. That sparked a dressing down from Chan, followed by applause from some in the gallery. The magistrate then ordered the police to identify those who had applauded.

Chow also condemned the court’s verdict on Tuesday and said authorities were criminalising speech.

“It can be foreseen that the public space to discuss June 4 will disappear entirely,” a tearful Chow told the court after the verdict. “Tyranny is greedy, red lines will keep expanding.”

Chow also faces separate charges of inciting subversion under a sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing in Hong Kong in 2020.

Her group, the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, dissolved amid that investigation, with police accusing it of being an “agent of foreign forces”, which the group had denied.

Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of wide-ranging freedoms, traditionally holds the largest June 4 vigil in the world.

But commemorations have become increasingly difficult. Last month, universities in the territory removed Tiananmen monuments, including the “Pillar of Shame” in the University of Hong Kong and the “Goddess of Democracy” at the Chinese University.

A June 4 museum was raided by police during the investigation into the Alliance and shut, and its online version cannot be accessed in Hong Kong.

China has never provided a full account of the 1989 crackdown. The death toll given by officials days later was about 300, most of them soldiers, but rights groups and witnesses say thousands may have been killed.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies