A former vice-chairwoman of the group behind Hong Kong’s annual Tiananmen Square vigil admitted on Friday she joined a “private” gathering in a public park on June 4 last year but denied calling on others to physically take part.
Chow Hang-tung, 36, was among three opposition figures who pleaded not guilty at the District Court to unauthorised assembly charges linked to the candlelight vigil in Victoria Park that day.
Police had banned the event – which marks the 1989 crackdown in Beijing – for the first time in 31 years, citing public health concerns.
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Judge Amanda Woodcock had on Thursday required Chow and activist Gwyneth Ho Kwai-lam, 31, to respond to the allegation of knowingly taking part in an unauthorised assembly.
Woodcock found that the prosecution had established a prima facie case against them, meaning evidence in initial investigation appears to support the charge.
The judge also found a prima facie case against jailed media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, who faces an incitement charge over the same incident, but the 74-year-old decided not to give evidence.
Chow, who opted to testify, said on Friday that last year’s vigil was only intended for standing committee members of the now-dissolved Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, as the group had appealed to the general public to remotely take part in the annual event via an online video link.
She said the alliance had insisted on holding the vigil in Victoria Park despite the coronavirus pandemic as members felt they were duty-bound to do so.
“We, the Hong Kong alliance, had been organising the candlelight assembly at the same location over the past 30 years. This was our promise to the victims in ‘89 and their families,” Chow said. “As survivors of the ‘89 democratic movement, we inevitably have to shoulder this responsibility to protect the candlelight vigil in Victoria Park.”
The Public Order Ordinance requires the organiser of a public meeting of more than 50 people to obtain police approval before the event, but Chow argued that last year’s assembly only comprised 20 alliance executives.
She confessed, however, that the gathering mass of people also included non-members, such as Lai, as well as some who chanted protest slogans. Chow said she would not turn them away for no reason.
In cross-examination, prosecutor Laura Ng Shuk-kuen sought to use Google statistics to underscore the severity of the pandemic, but Woodcock said she could determine the scale of the health crisis herself.
The prosecutor asked Chow: “Given the nature of the serious health risk, every responsible government has to be extremely cautious, vigilant and alert about this. Do you agree?”
“Yes, only if the same level of vigilance and care was applied in other situations as well,” Chow said. “We could still jam-pack trains and shopping centres. On what basis could it be said that a jam-packed train was less risky than a June 4 assembly?”
Chow will continue with her evidence on Monday.