Hong Kong’s High Court ruled on Wednesday that a decision by police to ban a Tiananmen square vigil last year was “unlawful,” thereby overturning an earlier conviction against jailed pro-democracy activist Chow Hang-tung, who helped organize the event.
For three decades, Hong Kong has been the only place on Chinese-controlled soil allowed to publicly commemorate the events in and around Tiananmen Square, during which unarmed mostly student protesters were massacred by Chinese troops in 1989. Victoria Park, a large swath of open area in the crowded Hong Kong city center, has been the default venue where the candle vigil has been held.
Since massive pro-democracy protests embroiled Hong Kong in 2019 and the restrictive National Security Law was then imposed on the city, Tiananmen vigils have been banned – with police citing pandemic restrictions as the reason. Since then, only small crowds of people have come out in defiance of authorities – holding small vigils in the presence of police.
Chow is the former chairwoman of the now-disbanded Hong Kong Alliance, which since 1990 has organized the city’s annual candlelight vigil commemorating Tiananmen’s victims.
In January, Chow was convicted by a lower court for inciting others to knowingly participate in the 2021 vigil banned by the police and was sentenced to 15 months behind bars.
Specifically, she was found guilty of incitement by publishing social media posts and a local newspaper article titled “candlelight carries the weight of conscience, and the Hong Kong people persevere in telling the truth,” according to the lower court verdict.
At the time, she was already serving a 12-month sentence for participating in the 2020 Tiananmen vigil.
The High Court upheld the lower court’s ruling with respect to Chow’s intention to call on people to join the vigil, but overturned its final verdict on the basis that the police ban on the vigil in 2021 was not legal as they did not “proactively and seriously consider” ways to facilitate a public gathering – despite the pandemic – which was required by law.
Provided that the ban was not valid, Chow’s articles no longer constitute a crime and thus her conviction was nullified on appeal.
Chow remains in custody as she faces further prosecutions, including national security charges that carry up to a decade in jail.
Previous reporting by CNN’s Hannah Ritchie and Jessie Yeung.