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Hong Kong court convicts 3 members of 1989 Tiananmen vigil group

The court convicted Hong Kong democracy activist and lawyer Chow Hang-tung, as well as Tang Ngok Kwan and Tsui Hon Kwong.

Three former members of a Hong Kong group that organized annual vigils to mark the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 have been found guilty of failing to comply with a request for information from the national security police.

Prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and lawyer Chow Hang-tung, 38, was among those sentenced by the magistrate on Saturday.

Chow is a former Vice Chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China. Two other former Alliance Permanent Commissioners, Tang Ngok Kwan and Tsui Hon Kwong, were also found guilty.

The now-disbanded Alliance was the main organizer of the June 4 candlelight vigil in Hong Kong for the victims of China’s crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy supporters in Tiananmen Square.

Each year, the vigil drew tens of thousands of people to the largest public memorial of its kind on Chinese soil.

Sentencing of the three is expected on March 11, with a maximum jail term of six months for this particular crime.

Chow is already serving two other prison sentences for unlawful assembly related to her involvement in organizing Tiananmen commemorations and faces a separate, more serious charge of subversion of state power through the Alliance.

Since the massive pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019, authorities have not allowed the vigil for COVID-related reasons. The Alliance disintegrated in September 2021 after authorities arrested several senior members of the group, including Chow.

During the trial which began only late last year – more than a year after the defendants were arrested – prosecutor Ivan Cheung accused the Alliance of being a “foreign agent” for an unnamed group after it reportedly paid HK$20,000 ($ 2,547) in funds .

Chow denied this in court, saying the Alliance was an independent civil society group led by Hong Kongers and the case against her and the others amounted to “political persecution”. Chow, a trained lawyer, defended himself and denied that the group posed a threat to national security.

“If the Alliance posed a threat to anything, it was a threat to the monopolization of power and the manipulation of truth,” Chow said in her closing subject.

During the trial, much of the prosecution’s evidence was heavily redacted or withheld — even from trial — on grounds of “public interest immunity.”

The court also ruled that the prosecution did not have to prove that the Alliance was a foreign agent.

At trial, attorney Albert Wong said that redacting evidence and removing the burden of proof “would allow the police commissioner to give anyone a blank foreign agent label.”

Magistrate Peter Law, who was hand-picked by Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader to handle national security cases, said in a written verdict on Saturday that it was necessary for police to “find the background” of the group given its political activities and “nexus of interactions with local and non-local organizations and people.”

Hong Kong’s national security law, which penalizes inter alia subversion and collusion with foreign forces, has been criticized by some Western governments as a tool to quell dissent.

Chinese and Hong Kong officials say the law is needed to restore stability to the city after the city’s protracted anti-Chinese protests in 2019.