Sentenced to 15 months in prison for organizing an “unauthorized” vigil to commemorate the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, Hong Kong activist Chow Hang-tung is now undergoing a separate trial for her role as former vice chairwoman of the Hong Kong Alliance.
The Alliance, disbanded last year under the National Security Law imposed by the communist Chinese authorities, was long a pillar of support for the democracy movement across China. It was famous for holding annual events in memory of the massacre every year starting 1990.
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The NSL bans many forms of political dissent and expression deemed dangerous as threats to “national security,” and allows for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Thousands of dissidents have since been arrested or charged in connection with the law.
Safeguarding the truth
A preliminary investigation, which began on Sept. 2, claimed to be “gathering sufficient evidence to prove the accusations” against the group.
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Chow, who showed up to the primary inquest, denied the charges in court, and said the Hong Kong Alliance is neither “anti-China,” nor advocates violence or incites hatred.
The Alliance was founded in 1989 following a massive outpour of support among Hongkongers for the democracy movement unfolding in mainland China at the time. It established five major guidelines: “release democracy activists, redress the June 4th Massacre, hold those who committed the massacre accountable, end one-party dictatorship, and build a democratic China.”
Chow refuted the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) claim to represent the Chinese nation and people, and used her testimony to argue the merits of her movement’s call for the end of one-party rule in China.
“The key to ending dictatorship is to break free from this cage of thought, safeguard the truth, provide choices, speak freely, and defend these important values and principles. This is precisely what the Hong Kong Alliance has done over the years, and this is also what I will do in court.”
The focus of the Hong Kong Alliance, she said, was to “foster a group of people who truly care about the country,” adding that “the regime’s argument is an attempt to confuse the Party as the nation.”
After being returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, the former British colony of Hong Kong has experienced an increased erosion of civil rights and censorship of its media outlets at the the hands of the city’s pro-Beijing establishment.
Following the initial trial, members of the prosecution presented “confessions, relevant documents and videotapes from 39 prosecution witnesses,” to try and prove the subversion charges.
Chow: ‘Impossible to plead guilty while pursuing democracy’
When presiding Magistrate Veronica Heung Shuk-han asked Chow whether she would plead guilty to the charges, Chow responded: “It is impossible to plead guilty while pursuing democracy and innocence,” and said her appearance in court was a symbolic form of that resistance.
When asked about the Five Guidelines set forth during the founding of the Alliance, and how they should be interpreted, Chow said: “To achieve these goals, it is inevitable to end dictatorship and build democracy.”
“The Five Guidelines are an integral whole, and none of them should be interpreted out of context. The Hong Kong Alliance originated from the democracy movement in 1989, and the ultimate appeal of that movement was to build a democratic country. As such, the Alliance could not possibly have forgotten our start, let alone that we have a responsibility to carry on for the dead,” Chow said.
She also pointed out, “We want to have a democratic country, but the biggest obstacle to this aspiration has been the one-party dictatorship and its unbending logic that the party should equal the state, and vice versa.”
‘A group of people who care about China’
When asked about her involvement with the Tiananmen commemoration events, Chow said that the Alliance has insisted on talking about “June 4th” for many years. In fact, the group had “cultivated a group of people who care about China’s affairs and have love for this place,” she said.
Although the Chinese regime claims that around 200 civilians and several dozen soldiers lost their lives during what was termed a “violent riot,” on June 4, 1989, the incident culminated in a military crackdown — and saw Chinese soldiers and tanks kill thousands of unarmed students and other Beijing residents involved in the protests.
Though most estimates put the number of dead in the thousands, the exact number of casualties from the Tiananmen Square massacre is unknown as the CCP has been known to conceal the release of accurate statistics.
“The government has kept identifying the Hong Kong Alliance as an “anti-China” group. But as far as my personal experience goes, having for years talked about June 4th and the tribulation of the [mainland] democracy advocates, the Alliance has in fact nurtured a group of people who care about China affairs and show love for this place, not at all inciting hatred or the so-called ‘anti-China’ sentiment,’ Chow added.
When the defense played clips from every year’s candlelight vigils and marches held in Hong Kong, Chow could be seen shedding tears, and said the clips “need to be seen and disseminated by the most people, and cannot just disappear.”
‘Totalitarianism controls people through fear’
The defense played a clip of the 2014 rally, and members of the Alliance standing committee, Nathan Law, Yvonne Leung, and other leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students presented flowers.
As they narrated an album listing those killed at Tiananmen, the chief prosecutor Ivan Cheung Cheuk-kan, representing the city’s Department of Justice, stood up and interrupted, saying that the film contained words with an improper “propagandistic intent,” and asked the court to intervene.
Magistrate Heung asked, “Given that this counts as evidence for the prosecution, why do you think it is inappropriate to present it in court?” Defense lawyer Erik Shum also objected to the prosecutor’s request, since the purpose of showing the video was to demonstrate the peaceful nature of the Alliance’s protest.
After that, Heung allowed the defense to continue presenting the materials.
One one of the clips contained a quote from Szeto Wah, the late chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance. He said, “Without the Alliance, there is no one country, two systems,” Chow once took off her mask to wipe away tears.
At the end of her testimony, Chow said, “After all, tyranny has to be maintained, and totalitarianism controls people through abasement and fear — turning everyone into his or her own jailer.”
“Ruled under absolute power, people are caged in a false world in which there are no facts and no choice; a world in which language is restricted, values are hollowed out, and independent thought and free will are no longer possible,” Chow said conclusively.
According to reports by local Hong Kong media on Sept. 9, the Hong Kong West Kowloon Law Court ruled that the prosecution had “sufficient evidence” to continue the case against Chow and other leaders of the former Alliance.
The case will be turned over to the High Court of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.