Chow Hang-tung, vice-chairwoman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (file photo)

June 4 vigil host abided by the law as its gathering had fewer than 50 people, says organiser

Members of an alliance that organised Hong Kong’s annual June 4 vigil visited Victoria Park for the same event last year in a group of fewer than 50 as police had banned the rally, a court heard on Friday.

A group of more than 50 people is deemed a public gathering and will require no objection from the police to proceed, as stipulated in the Public Order Ordinance.

In the case of the June 4 candlelight vigil, the force issued a letter of objection three days earlier to the organising party, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, to stop crowds from congregating, in view of Covid-19, to commemorate the 1989 Beijing Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Although the Victoria Park rally was prohibited, the lighting of candles by individuals was not, whether in that park or at other places, defendant Chow Hang-tung told the District Court on Friday.

Chow testified that the alliance, of which she was then vice-chairwoman, did not appeal against the police’s decision, which was released on June 1, 2020, because they would rather use the time to focus on preparing contingency plans to be carried out three days later.

“We did not want to waste our time appealing. We have to prepare for the contingency plans such that the June 4 mourning could proceed,” Chow said.

She added: “The government exaggerated the pandemic situation in Hong Kong. They used public health concerns as an excuse to ban the rally. It is an abuse of power.” The government never suggested precautionary measures to the alliance despite public health being such a concern, Chow told the court.

Chow has denied charges of taking part and of inciting others to take part in the unauthorised assembly. Her co-defendants are media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who faces the charge of inciting others to take part, and former journalist Gwyneth Ho, who is accused of taking part in the event.

In response to the police ban, Chow said, the alliance came up with a four-part contingency plan that included appealing to the public to participate in online mourning, go to different locations around the city to mourn in small groups, and send photos to the alliance about individuals’ mourning. The alliance also formed its own group of not more than 50 members and picked a place to mourn together.

Chow explained that the alliance chose to mourn at Victoria Park because it was a symbolic place. “The candlelight vigil was held in Victoria Park for the past 30 years. The candlelight at Victoria Park must continue,” she said.

Furthermore, Chow said, the alliance had publicly announced its cancellation of the June 4 vigil, so visitors to the park that night and their activities were unrelated to the alliance.

Head prosecutor Laura Ng pointed out that video clips previously played in court showed the alliance’s then chairman, Lee Cheuk-yan, distributing candles to the public at the park on the afternoon of June 4 and saying: “You are welcome to get the candles. Let’s go to Victoria Park together.” The videos were evidence of incitement to join the unauthorised assembly, Ng said.

Chow rebutted that argument, saying Victoria Park was only one possible location for June 4 mourning. The alliance had appealed to the public to mourn in every corner across the city in small groups, as suggested in its contingency plans, she reiterated.

Ng went on to say that Chow moved away mill barriers which were condoning off the football pitches inside Victoria Park. The prosecutor suggested that the action showed the alliance was expecting more people to join the gathering as evening approached. “Why did you pull down the mill barriers if there were only 50 people or less?” she asked.

Chow replied that she needed to let her group enter the football pitches. “We did not care about other mill barriers,” she said.

The defendant added that she would take responsibility for speeches and decisions made by the alliance, but maintained the alliance did not ask the public to join its own gathering at Victoria Park on June 4, 2020.

The trial will continue on Monday before Judge Amanda Woodcock.

By Y.S. Luk