HONG KONG — Three former members of a Hong Kong group that organized annual vigils to mark China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, were found guilty on Saturday of not complying with a national security police request for information.
Prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and barrister Chow Hang-tung, 38, was among those convicted by the magistrate court. Chow is a former vice-chairperson of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China.
Two other former standing committee members of the Alliance, Tang Ngok Kwan and Tsui Hon Kwong, were also found guilty.
The now-disbanded Alliance was the main organizer of Hong Kong’s June 4 candlelight vigil for victims of China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown. Every year it drew tens of thousands of people in the largest public commemoration of its kind on Chinese soil.
Since Hong Kong’s massive pro-democracy protests in 2019, authorities have not allowed the vigil to take place on COVID related grounds. The Alliance disbanded in September 2021 after authorities arrested several senior members of the group, including Chow.
During the trial that only kicked off late last year more than a year after the defendants were arrested, the Alliance was accused by government prosecutor Ivan Cheung of being a “foreign agent” for an unnamed group, after allegedly receiving HK$20,000 ($2,547) from it.
Chow, however, denied this in court, saying the Alliance was an independent civil society group run by Hong Kongers, and that the case against her and the others amounted to “political persecution.”
“The existence of an independent organization like us that can check power, is essential to the security of a nation, not a threat,” she told the court.
Magistrate Peter Law, who was hand-picked to hear national security cases by Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader, said in a written judgment that it was necessary for the police to “ascertain the background” of the group given its political activities and “nexus of interactions with local and non-local organizations and people.”
Sentencing is expected on March 11 with a maximum jail term of six months for this particular offense.
Chow is already serving two other prison terms for unlawful assembly linked to her involvement in organizing Tiananmen commemoration events, and faces a separate, graver charge of subverting state power through the Alliance.
Some key details of the case, including the overseas organizations and individuals alleged to have ties to the Alliance, were kept confidential after the prosecutor applied for “Public Interest Immunity” (PII), arguing these disclosures would the harm public interest.
The national security law, which punishes acts including subversion and collusion with foreign forces has been criticized by some Western governments as a tool to crush dissent.
Chinese and Hong Kong officials say the law is necessary to restore stability to the city after the city’s protracted anti-China protests in 2019. (Reporting by Jessie Pang; Editing by James Pomfret, William Mallard and Simon Cameron-Moore)