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Hong Kong court convicts activists behind Tiananmen Vigils


Three Hong Kong activists from a now-defunct group that held annual vigils commemorating China’s 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters were sentenced on Saturday for failing to provide authorities with information about the group under a privacy law. national security.

Chow Hang-tung, Tang Ngok-kwan and Tsui Hon-kwong were arrested in 2021 during a crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy movement following massive protests more than three years ago. They were the leaders of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China before its dissolution under the shadow of law imposed by Beijing.

The alliance was best known for holding candlelight vigils in Hong Kong on the anniversary of the Chinese military’s crushing of pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Critics say its closure showed that the freedoms promised when Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 are eroding.

Before the group voted to disband, police demanded details of its operations and finances in connection with alleged links to overseas democracy groups in August 2021, accusing it of being a foreign agent.

But the group refused to cooperate, arguing that police were arbitrarily labeling pro-democracy organizations as foreign agents. He added that the police had no right to ask for her information because she was not a foreign agent and the authorities had not provided sufficient justification.

Under the security law enforcement rules, the chief of police can request a range of information from a foreign official. Failure to comply with the request could result in six months in prison and a fine of 100,000 Hong Kong dollars ($12,740) if convicted.

On Saturday, Senior Magistrate Peter Law ruled that the defendants were bound to respond to the notice served on them, which he described as “safe and legal”, and that their failure to comply was unjustified.

The alliance had been actively working with various entities and individuals overseas, Law said, so it was necessary to explore their connections and relationships to determine their affiliation and ultimate purpose.

“Such a requirement for information was nothing like a brush-fishing exercise, but rather limited in terms of time periods and nature,” he said. “The police had taken a sober and restrained approach.”

In previous court proceedings, the court ordered the partial redaction of certain information after prosecutors argued that full disclosure of the information would jeopardize an ongoing investigation into national security matters.

Undisclosed details in a redacted police report submitted to the court include the names of groups believed to have links to the alliance.

“Leaking secret information, such as other people’s identities, strategies and interim investigation results, would certainly seriously jeopardize the ongoing investigation,” Law said on Saturday.

The annual vigil organized by the alliance was the only large-scale public commemoration of the June 4 crackdown on Chinese soil and was attended by massive crowds until authorities banned it in 2020, citing measures anti-pandemic.

Chow, along with two other former leaders of the alliance, Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho, were charged with inciting the subversion of state power under the Security Act in 2021. The alliance itself was accused of subversion.

The National Security Act criminalizes secession, subversion, and collusion with foreign forces to interfere in city affairs as well as terrorism. Along with the activists, pro-democracy publisher Jimmy Lai also faces charges of collusion under the law, which has already jailed or silenced many dissidents.

In Beijing, Wang Chao, spokesperson for the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, hailed the law’s enactment in 2020 as a milestone in practicing the guiding principle “one country, two systems”.

The principle promises the former British colony the right to retain its own political, social and financial institutions for 50 years after the 1997 handover.

“Hong Kong has seen a major shift from chaos to stability,” he said.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.