04 March 2023

Hong Kong activists convicted over failure to comply with security law

04 March 2023

Three Hong Kong activists from a now-defunct group that organised annual vigils commemorating China’s 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters were convicted for failing to provide authorities with information on the group in accordance with a national security law.

Chow Hang-tung, Tang Ngok-kwan and Tsui Hon-kwong were arrested in 2021 during a crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy movement following massive protests more than three years ago.

They were leaders of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China before it disbanded under the shadow of the Beijing-imposed law.

The alliance was best known for organising candlelight vigils in Hong Kong on the anniversary of the Chinese military’s crushing of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests.

Critics say its shutdown has shown freedoms that were promised when Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 are eroding.

Before the group voted to disband, police had sought details about its operations and finances in connection with alleged links to democracy groups overseas in August 2021, accusing it of being a foreign agent.

But the group refused to cooperate, arguing police were arbitrarily labelling pro-democracy organisations as foreign agents.

It added the police did not have a right to ask for its information because it was not a foreign agent and the authorities did not provide sufficient justification.

Under the security law’s implementation rules, the police chief can request a range of information from a foreign agent.

Failure to comply with the request could result in six months in jail and a fine of 100,000 Hong Kong dollars if convicted.

On Saturday, principal magistrate Peter Law ruled the defendants were obliged to answer the notice served to them, which he called “sound and legal”, and their non-compliance was unjustified.

The alliance had been actively operating with various entities and people abroad, Mr Law said, so it was necessary to explore their dealings and connections to determine their affiliation and ultimate purpose.

“Such requirement for information was nothing like a broad-brush fishing exercise but rather was constrained in terms of periods of time and nature,” he said.

“The police had taken an abstemious and self-restrained approach.”

The annual vigil organised by the alliance was the only large-scale public commemoration of the June 4 crackdown on Chinese soil and was attended by massive crowds until authorities banned it in 2020, citing anti-pandemic measures.

Chow, along with two other former alliance leaders, Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho, were charged with inciting subversion of state power under the security law in 2021.

The alliance itself was charged with subversion.

The national security law criminalizes secession, subversion, and collusion with foreign forces to intervene in the city’s affairs as well as terrorism.

Apart from the activists, pro-democracy publisher Jimmy Lai is also facing collusion charges under the law.

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