Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Vigil Group Was Simply Exercising Free Speech, Court Hears National Security Case

The Hong Kong group that organized the Tiananmen Vigils was exercising a constitutionally protected right to free speech when it declared its five goals and they did not violate national security law, a said a lawyer for one of its former executives.

Chow Hang-tung, former vice president of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of China’s Patriotic Democratic Movements, asks Acting Chief Magistrate Veronica Heung to declare that she has no case to answer under the security law.

Annual Tiananmen Vigil in Hong Kong, 2019. Photo: Todd R. Darling/HKFP.

Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of Chow’s arrest and detention under the Security Act. Chow shouted “Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!” as she entered the dock at the West Kowloon Magistrate’s Court.

Chow, along with the Alliance itself and two other ex-leaders Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho, are charged under Beijing-imposed security law with inciting subversion.

The Alliance has for decades held the annual Hong Kong Vigils in Victoria Park to commemorate the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown. Hundreds, if not thousands, of protesters are estimated to have died after the People’s Liberation Army was dispatched to suppress student protests in Beijing on June 4, 1989.

The group, formed in 1989 and disbanded last year following a member vote, had five operational goals: free dissidents, rehabilitate the 1989 pro-democracy movement, demand accountability for the June 4 massacre, end the one-party dictatorship and build a democratic China.

After the prosecution requested that her case be transferred to the High Court, Chow opted for a preliminary inquiry, during which the court must consider the strength of the evidence against her.

Insufficient evidence

Attorney Erik Shum, representing Chow on Thursday, argued that there are three elements to the subversion offense that the prosecution must prove: the use of violence, the threat to use violence, or an act illegal involving violence.

Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Shum argued that the unlawful acts in question must involve the element of violence. Otherwise, it would be “absurd”, as incitement to illegal acts such as jaywalking would be considered a violation of safety legislation.

The lawyer said prosecutors had singled out only one of the Alliance’s five operational goals, “ending the one-party dictatorship” in China, as grounds for bringing the case.

Shum said debating whether the country should end one-party rule was “a conflict of ideology” and not a crime, and it was not for the court to decide whether the five goals of the Alliance were politically valid.

The magistrate was also urged to draw a ‘clear line’, by her decision, between the exercise of freedom of speech and expression as protected by the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights, and subversion of state power by illegal means.

There was no change in slogans used and rallies held by the Alliance before and after the implementation of the national security law in 2020, Shum said. The government never interfered with Alliance activities in the 30 years prior to the Security Act.

Chow Hang-tung. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The prosecution was essentially saying that following the implementation of the sweeping legislation, there had been a “quantum leap” such that what the Alliance had always said suddenly became an offence, Shum said.

Lawyer says prosecution failed to show Chow incited others to commit unlawful acts, whether or not linked to violence, in an effort to overthrow power of State.

Shum said the five goals seek to promote political and civil rights and constitute the exercise of freedom of expression as protected by the Bill of Rights. They were not meant to overthrow the Chinese system or overthrow the regime.

The prosecution also failed to prove what China’s “fundamental system” was, Shum said, or define which central organ of power was destroyed. There was no prima facie case against Chow.

Following Shum’s comments, Heung adjourned his ruling until Friday.

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