Hong Kong’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that a police decision to ban a vigil in Tiananmen Square last year was “unlawful”, overturning a previous conviction of 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 on and around Tiananmen Square, in which unarmed, mostly student, protesters were massacred by Chinese troops in 1989. The area in Hong Kong’s crowded city center was the Default location where the candle vigil was held.
Vigils in Tiananmen Square have been banned since massive pro-democracy protests engulfed Hong Kong in 2019 and the city was subsequently imposed the restrictive National Security Law, citing police as citing pandemic restrictions. Since then, only small gatherings of people have come out, despite the authorities, and have held small vigils in the presence of the police.
Chow is the former chair of the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance, which has organized the city’s annual vigil to commemorate the victims of Tiananmen since 1990.
In January, Chow was sentenced to 15 months in prison by a lower court for inciting to knowingly attend the police-banned 2021 vigil.
Specifically, she was found guilty of sedition by publishing social media posts and a local newspaper article titled “Candlelight carries the weight of conscience and Hong Kong people persevere in telling the truth,” the lower court ruled.
At that time, she was already serving a 12-month sentence for attending the 2020 Tiananmen Square vigil.
The High Court upheld the lower court’s ruling on Chow’s intention to call people to attend the vigil, but overturned its final ruling on the grounds that the police ban on the vigil in 2021 was not legal because they weren’t “Proactively and seriously” did consider ways to allow for a legally mandated public gathering – despite the pandemic.
Unless the ban was in effect, Chow’s articles no longer constitute a crime and her conviction was therefore overturned on appeal.
Chow remains in custody pending further prosecution, including national security charges that carry up to a decade in prison.