Religion & Liberty Online

Civil rights leader pleads not guilty to charges related to Tiananmen Square Massacre vigil

(Image credit: Associated Press)

Even the memory of the massacre has become a threat to Hong Kong and Chinese authorities, as they crack down on mass attendance at public vigils.

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The former vice chair of a now-disbanded civil rights group,​​ the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which also organizes the annual Tiananmen Square vigil, pleaded not guilty to charges of inciting others to take part in this year’s banned vigil.

Chow Hang-tung, representing herself, appeared in front of Magistrate Amy Chan at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on Oct. 5 to contest the charges.

Convener of the prominent civil rights group in Hong Kong, Chow “planned to make arguments on several issues,” according to Hong Kong Free Press. Those arguments include whether the government’s ban on the vigil was permissible under Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the city’s version of a constitution.

On the whole, Chow said she would vehemently argue against the reasons behind her arrest and prosecution. Chow cited a Court of Final Appeal case, saying it was not within the court’s authority to make decisions on political matters.

The prosecution presented evidence that the Alliance had notified Hong Kong police that it still had plans to hold the annual vigil on June 4, during which they would defy the ban on the public event.

Chow refuted the evidence, saying the notice was not relevant to the case at hand. Further, she disagreed with how the prosecution included the notice as evidence against her in the preliminary admitted facts of the trial.

After two separate breaks in Chow’s trial, she still could not agree with the list of admitted facts. The prosecution consented to prepare a written statement from a superintendent to validate the list.

The barrister on behalf of Chow, who is currently in Hong Kong custody over a National Security case, said she would need approximately two weeks to prepare for the next session.

The June 4 vigil commemorates the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, when Chinese troops fired on tens of thousands of pro-democracy student protesters calling for freedom of speech and press, greater democracy, and less censorship. An estimated 10,000 protesters were killed.

The annual vigil, organized by the Alliance, was banned both this year and in 2020, with Hong Kong authorities citing its violation of COVID-19 policy.

Critics believe the ban is a front for Hong Kong authorities’ attempt to censor any pro-democracy voice in opposition to the government.

During past vigils, thousands of participants would flock to Victoria Park at dusk, each holding a single candle to remember those who were killed while fighting for democracy.

This year, despite the ban, thousands of people participated and more than 20 individuals were arrested for unlawful assembly. In an interview with NPR, Chris Yeung, journalist and commentator in Hong Kong, said this about participation in the vigil: “People will be scared, and the government also want[s] to scare people not to do it”

At the end of August, government leaders announced their investigation into the Alliance, accusing it of being an “agent of foreign forces.” Facing a slew of charges under the city’s strict National Security Law (NSL), the Alliance was forced to disband on Sept. 25.

Sixteen members, including notable activist Joshua Wong and former Alliance vice chair Albert Ho, have been handed prison sentences after pleading guilty to unlawful assembly and subversion, respectively, for playing a part in the 2019 pro-democracy protests.

After the Alliance’s chairperson, Lee Cheuk-yan, who also faces NSL charges of illegal assembly, and Ho were jailed, Chow became vice chair of the Alliance, up until its disbandment.

Despite more than 150 arrests under the NSL, another influential pro-democracy advocate will take a stand against the government’s flirtation with absolute communism, tyranny, and lack of respect for its citizens and their fundamental rights.

Chow’s trial is the latest attempt in Hong Kong and mainland China to eradicate human rights. The investigation has proved that now a mere memorial of an event is too dangerous for Hong Kong political leaders to permit, because a memory is powerful. A memory is capable of eliciting emotions that may be acted upon.

As Jeremy Brown, a historian at Simon Fraser University in Canada, remarks: “Remembering becomes resistance.”

The Hong Kong government proceeds to tighten its control over its citizens. Absolute control, however, will not be attainable until every glimmer of democratic ideals, even the memory of them, is wiped from existence.

Kara Wheeler

Kara Wheeler is a member of the Acton Institute’s 2021 Emerging Leaders class. She is a senior at Aquinas College majoring in in English and Journalism. She loves to write, partake in any sport she can, and can be found either on the water or in downtown Grand Rapids.