Hong Kong’s High Court ruled on Wednesday that the police’s decision to ban a Tiananmen Square vigil last year was “illegal,” thereby quashing an earlier conviction against jailed pro-democracy activist Chow Hang-tung, who said helped organize the event.
For three decades, Hong Kong was 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. in Hong Kong’s busy downtown, it was the default location for candle vigils.
Since massive pro-democracy protests swept through 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 the authorities, holding small vigils in the police presence.
Chow is the former chairman of the now disbanded Hong Kong Alliance, which has organized the city’s annual torchlight procession since 1990 to commemorate the victims of Tiananmen.
In January, Chow was convicted in a lower court of inciting others to knowingly attend a police-banned 2021 vigil and was sentenced to 15 months behind bars.
In particular, she was found guilty of incitement by posting social media posts and a local newspaper article titled “Candlelight Has the Weight of Conscience, and Hong Kong People Persist in Telling the Truth,” according to the court verdict of first degree.
At the time, he was already serving a 12-month sentence for attending the 2020 Tiananmen vigil.
The High Court upheld the lower court’s ruling regarding Chow’s intention to invite people to attend the vigil, but reversed its final verdict on the grounds that the police ban on the vigil in 2021 does not it was legal as it did not “proactively and seriously consider” ways to facilitate a public gathering – despite the pandemic – which was required by law.
Provided the ban was invalid, Chow’s articles no longer constitute a misdemeanor and thus his conviction was overturned on appeal.
Chow remains in custody as he faces further prosecutions, including national security charges leading to up to a decade in prison.