Hong Kong police banned Tiananmen vigil ‘by default’, barrister accused of incitement tells court

·3-min read

A former leader of the group behind Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Square vigil accused police of making a predetermined decision to ban this year’s event rather than basing it on the latest public health advice, as she stood trial on Wednesday for allegedly inciting others to breach the order.

Barrister Chow Hang-tung, vice-chairwoman of the now disbanded Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, stirred up members of the public into defying the prohibition – issued on coronavirus-related grounds – against gathering at Victoria Park for the June 4 candlelight ceremony, according to prosecutors.

After an independent appeal panel upheld the police decision, Chow published three articles in the Ming Pao newspaper and on her social media accounts calling on others to join her in commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

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Police freeze all assets of Hong Kong group behind annual June 4 vigil

Chow, 36, denied a count of inciting others to knowingly take part in an unauthorised assembly before Magistrate Amy Chan Wai-mun, saying she was being prosecuted for political reasons. She faces up to two years in jail if convicted.

The candlelight vigil has been held annually in Victoria Park without interruption since 1990, until last year when police first prohibited the event on public health grounds relating to the Covid-19 crisis. They reached the same conclusion ahead of the 2021 vigil.

West Kowloon Court heard that Superintendent Simon Cheung Wing-kan on May 27 issued a notice of prohibition against this year’s event, citing health risks during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Appeal Board on Public Meetings and Processions upheld Cheung’s decision two days later.

On May 29, Chow posted on Facebook and Twitter that she would nonetheless “honour this 32-year promise and light up the candle in a place where everyone can see”.

“On June 4 this year, with our candlelight, let us continue to fight for justice for the deceased and defend the dignity of the living,” she wrote.

Five days later, Ming Pao ran an article by Chow which urged readers to “resist” the government and continue to mourn June 4 despite the police ban.

The last sentence of the article read: “Tonight at 8pm, I hope to see your candlelight.”

Superintendent Simon Cheung leaves West Kowloon Court after testifying against Chow Hang-tung on Wednesday. Photo: Brian Wong
Superintendent Simon Cheung leaves West Kowloon Court after testifying against Chow Hang-tung on Wednesday. Photo: Brian Wong

As the prosecution opened their case on Wednesday, Cheung said his decision to refuse the alliance’s application was based on a Department of Health memorandum, in which government experts advised against activities that involved mass gatherings of people eating and drinking. The document did not comment on the suitability of holding a candlelight vigil at a time when the crisis was easing in the city.

Representing herself in court, Chow suggested that Cheung’s decision was predetermined, as the memo was addressed to the independent appeal board rather than police. Chow, cross-examining Cheung, said that implied the officer had not bothered to take the experts’ opinions into account.

“I put it to you that this year’s notice of prohibition was in fact drawn up from last year’s template,” she said. Cheung denied that allegation.

Chow will take the stand herself when the trial resumes on October 25. She remains behind bars having been charged under the national security law in two separate cases.

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