Tiananmen Vigil Organizers Denied Bail As Rights Groups, U.K. Slam Subversion Charges

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Originally published by Radio Free Asia on 10 September, 2021

A court in Hong Kong on Friday denied bail to one of the organizers of a now-banned candlelight vigil for the victims of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen massacre, amid an international outcry at subversion charges laid against three of its key members.

Chow Hang-tung, vice chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, was returned to custody on Friday after the hearing, the contents of which are not allowed to be reported by the media under Hong Kong law.

Dozens of supporters showed up to support Chow outside the court building wearing T-shirts bearing the words “Never forget June 4,” “Overturn the June 4 verdict” and, simply “Truth.”

One supporter, who gave only the surname Law, said it was important not to cave in to attempts by the authorities to silence people through fear.

“We shouldn’t take on the fear inflicted by the regime, and become terrified ourselves,” Law told RFA. “Chow Hang-tung has already been brave enough to argue against the absurdity of the national security law from her prison cell.”

“Today, I am wearing this to amplify what she said.”

The Alliance itself, chairman Lee Cheuk-yan and vice-chairs Chow and Albert Ho were all charged with “incitement to subvert state power” on Thursday, under a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from July 1, 2020.

U.K. foreign secretary Dominic Raab tweeted after their arrests that they were “a chilling demonstration of how the National Security Law is being used by Beijing to dismantle civil society and stifle political dissent in Hong Kong.”

Declining rule of law

The London-based rights group Hong Kong Watch said the arrests marked “a further deterioration” in the rule of law in the city, and in the freedoms its residents once enjoyed.

“The only ‘crime’ the members of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China have committed is holding an annual vigil to remember the Chinese people who were murdered in Tiananmen Square in 1989 by the Chinese Communist Party for daring to call for democracy,” the group’s chief executive Benedict Rogers said in a statement.

“We urge the U.K. government to reflect on the declining state of the rule of law in Hong Kong,” Rogers said, calling for a ban on British judges serving in the Hong Kong judiciary, as they have continued to do since the 1997 handover to China.

For three decades, the Alliance organized mass vigils of tens, sometimes hundreds, of thousands of people in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, to commemorate the victims of a bloody military crackdown on the student-led Chinese democracy movement in 1989.

As the only public commemoration of the massacre on Chinese soil, the event often drew former leaders and participants in the 1989 protests on Tiananmen Square, although in later years many were denied entry by Hong Kong immigration.

National security police have now categorized the Alliance as “a foreign agent,” and on Thursday also raided the June 4 Memorial Hall, a museum preserving historic materials linked to the 1989 crackdown, removing many boxes containing computers, documents and promotional materials, as well as exhibits.

The raid came after the arrests and charging of five Alliance members, Chow Hang-tung among them, for failing to comply with a request for information from the national security police, who had demanded the group supply details of its membership, funding sources and activities in recent years, under Article 43 of the national security law.

10 years in jail

Chow and the Alliance refused to comply, arguing that the Alliance was spontaneously founded by the people of Hong Kong in solidarity with the pro-democracy movement in mainland China.

The overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network said Chow, Lee and Ho could face jail terms of up to 10 years for “incitement to subvert state power.”

Alliance committee members Tsui Hon-kwong, Simon Leung, Tang Ngok-kwan and Chan To-wai were also arrested due to their non-compliance with the national security police’s information request, it said.

“The Hong Kong Alliance had always upheld the vision for a China that was ruled democratically, where the rule of law mattered, and where human rights were genuinely respected,” CHRD research and advocacy coordinator William Nee said in a statement emailed to RFA.

“The central government and their local allies are simply using the national security law to crush that democratic vision and ensure that there is no significant opposition to the increasingly dictatorial rule of Xi Jinping as head of the CCP,” Nee said.

He said the information request from police had demanded evidence of the Alliance’s activities dating back to 2014, six years before the national security law took effect, despite promises from Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam that it wouldn’t be applied retroactively.

Nee called for the immediate and unconditional release of all detained Alliance members.

A spokesperson for the foreign affairs office of Beijing’s Central Liaison Office in Hong Kong said Raab’s comment on the subversion arrests was “irresponsible.”

“Certain Western politicians disregard the facts, invert black and white, view Hong Kong’s national security law … as a thorn in their side,” the spokesperson said.

“[They] have fully exposed their sinister intentions to interfere with the rule of law in Hong Kong [and] undermine the long-lasting stability of Hong Kong,” they said, vowing to “counterattack” if such comments continued.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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