Chow Hang-tung, a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist, was sentenced to 15 months in prison on Tuesday for her part in organizing an unauthorized vigil to commemorate the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
Lengthened time in prison
Hong Kong was the only place under Chinese control where people could hold annual public events remembering Tiananmen Square for three decades until two years ago when the city’s police banned the event, citing COVID-19 restrictions. People still gathered in small crowds for the vigil in 2020, however, and again in 2021. Ever since Beijing passed a national security law in 2020 making subversion and secession punishable offenses with sentences of up to life in prison, Hong Kong’s political and social landscape has transformed.
Chow was arrested on June 4 last year for holding the annual candlelight vigil on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Media tycoon Jimmy Kai and reporter Gwyneth Ho were also arrested in connection with the banned event.
This is Chow’s second conviction for organizing banned Tiananmen vigils. She was already serving a one-year sentence for her role in organizing the 2020 Tiananmen vigil, when the conviction on Tuesday added 10 months onto her total prison sentence, according to CNN.
Pro-democracy activism in Hong Kong
Chow is the former vice chairwoman of the disbanded Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which has held the annual vigil since 1990.
The Hong Kong Alliance submitted a “Notification of the Intention to Hold a Public Meeting/Procession” to the city’s police, according to court documents. Even after the organization’s request was rejected twice, Chow posted on her social media pages to invite Hong Kong residents to come to the vigil.
Chow also wrote an article, titled “Candlelight carries the weight of conscience and the Hong Kong people persevere in telling the truth,” that was published in local newspaper Ming Pao.
In 2020, Chow pleaded not guilty to the charge of “incitement to knowingly take part in an unauthorized assembly,” arguing that her appealing to the public to light candles “anywhere” did not constitute “incitement” and was not encouraging of a rally. She also challenged the police prohibition order on the grounds it undermined her right to freedom of assembly.
The magistrate ruled that Chow had “overstepped the boundaries laid down by the law by seriously unlawful means of inciting others to knowingly take part in an unlawful assembly.”
In September of last year, Chow and three other Hong Kong Alliance activists were arrested for refusing to comply with a police order to submit information about their organization’s employees, funding and interaction with domestic and foreign agents on national security grounds.