Hong Kong’s Tiananmen vigil hosts kept in custody over security law charges

Seven organisers behind Hong Kong’s annual June 4 Tiananmen vigil have been remanded in custody awaiting trial after they were charged with threatening national security.

Prosecutors have charged activists Chow Hang-tung, Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho with inciting subversion of state power. The same allegation is levied against the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, an activist group led by the trio which has the legal status of a company.

For three decades, the alliance had organised candlelight vigils at Victoria Park on June 4 to commemorate victims of the 1989 Beijing Tiananmen Square massacre and to call for justice.

On Friday, magistrate Peter Law rejected Chow’s bail application at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts. Lee and Ho were already serving time for another protest-related case and did not apply for bail.

Asked whether she understood the charge against her, Chow told the court: “I understand this is an absurd charge.” She is a barrister and was representing herself at the session.

Prosecutors told the court that the alliance and its three leaders advocated overthrowing China’s “body of central power” and “basic system” established by the constitution. The defendants allegedly incited others to “organise, plan, commit or participate” in subversive acts, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison under Hong Kong’s national security law.

Later on Friday, the same court dealt with a related national security case concerning Chow and four of the alliance’s standing committee members: Leung Kam-wai, Tsui Hon-kwong, Tang Ngok-kwan and Chan To-wai.

Authorities said Chow and her four colleagues did not comply with orders to provide information to national security police by the deadline on Tuesday. 

Under the national security law, the police can demand information from “foreign and Taiwan political organisations and their agents” for investigation purposes. Offenders are liable to a maximum fine of HK$100,000 and six months in jail.

All five pleaded not guilty, with Tang saying: “I’m not a foreign agent. I plead not guilty.”

The magistrate rejected their bail applications on the grounds that they might continue to commit acts endangering national security. Failing to submit information requested by authorities would constitute such an act, he said.

“If a person does not submit the information as requested, it will affect a national security investigation. What is the extent of this influence? No one can say for certain,” Law said. “It might cause a delay, evidence might be lost, or suspects might have a chance to flee.

“Delaying an investigation is also an act that endangers national security.”

Lead prosecutor Anthony Chau said the defendants had “openly defied” the national security law and had not recanted their beliefs, which meant their breach of the law was ongoing.

These exchanges were part of bail negotiations, which the law typically prohibits the media from reporting in detail. In an unusual move, the magistrate Law lifted the reporting restrictions on the afternoon bail proceedings, saying that his decision balanced the interests of the accused and the need for public justice.

Outside court, Richard Tsoi, a former standing committee member of the alliance, said he found the prosecution “shocking and hard to accept”. He noted that all of the group’s standing committee members had been taken into custody.

The day before, the police raided the June 4 museum operated by the alliance and seized documents, computers and promotional materials. Hong Kong authorities also froze its assets, worth HK$2.2 million (US$283,000). 

Law adjourned the subversion case to October 28 after prosecutors said they needed more time to examine the “computers, iPads and 50 USB storage devices”. As for the case involving non-compliance with the police’s information order, the court will conduct a pre-trial review on October 21.

By Holmes Chan