Hong Kong Activist Jailed for 15 Months Over Tiananmen Square Massacre Vigil

By Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers US, China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
January 4, 2022Updated: January 4, 2022

An activist behind the annual Tiananmen Square vigil in Hong Kong was sentenced to 15 months in prison on Jan. 4 for inciting others to participate in an unauthorized assembly in 2021 to commemorate the victims of the June 4, 1989, massacre at the hands of the Chinese regime.

“It can be foreseen that the public space to discuss June 4 will disappear entirely,” Chow Hang-tung told the court in tears after being sentenced. “Tyranny is greedy, red lines will keep expanding.”

Chow, 36, a barrister and former vice chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, was arrested on June 4, 2021. That day, hundreds of locals gathered near a Hong Kong park to remember those who died in 1989, despite such events being banned by the Hong Kong government, who cited coronavirus concerns.

The alliance, a pro-democracy group founded in May 1989, was the organizer for the annual candlelight vigil before it disbanded in September 2021, following the arrests of several of the group’s leaders.

Hong Kong police also banned the annual vigil in 2020, citing the same health concern. Critics say the bans, which came after mass anti-Chinese Communist Party, pro-democracy protests beginning in June 2019, are an attempt to silence public dissent against the Chinese regime.

Thousands of Hongkongers gathered for a candlelight vigil on June 4, 2020, ignoring the police ban.

Anything surrounding the Tiananmen Square Massacre—when the Chinese military was ordered to slaughter hundreds, or by some estimates, thousands of Chinese student protesters calling for democratic reforms—is still taboo in China. The Chinese regime continues to deny having killed protesters, and deploys its censorship apparatus to wipe out any mentions of the event.

Chow’s incitement charge stemmed from her social media posts and articles published between May 29, 2021 and June 4, 2021. According to a court document, prosecutors presented her Facebook and Twitter posts as evidence, including one such post titled “Lighting a candle is not a crime: Stand one’s ground,” as well as an article she had written, “Candlelight carries the weight of conscience and the Hong Kong people persevere in telling the truth,” which was published in local newspaper Ming Pao.

Chow pleaded not guilty to the incitement charge in October.

The barrister was among eight activists, including pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, sentenced to prison terms in December 2021 for their roles in the banned 2020 vigil. Chow was convicted of the incitement and participation charges, and sentenced to 12 months behind bars.

All in all, Chow will be incarcerated for 22 months, since five months of her Jan. 3 prison sentence will be carried out concurrently with her December prison sentence.

Chow is facing another trial under Beijing’s draconian national security law, after she and two other former leaders of the alliance, Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho, were accused of inciting subversion.

Shortly after Chow was found guilty on Jan. 4, Washington-based advocacy group Hong Kong Democracy Council (HKDC) and Amnesty International both took to Twitter to denounce the verdict.

“Lawyer Chow Hang Tung’s second conviction for wanting to commemorate the Tiananmen crackdown is another shameful example of the all-out assault on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Hong Kong,” Amnesty wrote. “Chow Hang Tung did nothing wrong and people should be free to commemorate the 1989 crackdown. She and all other activists and human rights defenders unjustly detained should be freed immediately.”

“Politically motivated charges and convictions keep piling up on civil society leader[s],” HKDC wrote. “Another SPEECH CRIME purely based on her tweets and article.”

Reuters contributed to this article.