A Hong Kong court sentenced three former organisers of the city’s annual Tiananmen square vigil to four and a half months in jail on Saturday for refusing to hand over records to national security police.
The candlelight vigil to mourn victims of China’s bloody crackdown on peaceful protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989 was banned by Hong Kong authorities in 2020, weeks before China imposed a sweeping national security law to silence political dissent in the city.
Three leaders of the Hong Kong Alliance, which had organised the vigil for three decades, were found guilty last week for failing to hand over a wide range of documents including meeting minutes and financial records.
Authorities had demanded the documents be handed over on the grounds that the group was a suspected “foreign agent”.
Magistrate Peter Law said national security was of cardinal importance and that the sentence needed to be “punitive and sufficiently deterrent”.
Chow Hang-tung, who was jailed alongside two other senior Alliance members Tang Ngok-kwan and Tsui Hon-kwong, vowed to “fight falsehood with truth” in a defiant courtroom speech.
“Sentence us for our insubordination if you must, but when the exercise of power is based on lies, to be insubordinate is the only way to be human,” she said.
“We know as a matter of fact that we are no foreign agent, and nothing has emerged during this year-long ordeal that proves otherwise.”
Under the security law — imposed following months of huge and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests — police can demand a broad range of organisational, financial and operational details from any person or group deemed to be a “foreign agent” in Hong Kong.
Prosecutors never named which foreign entity the Alliance was supposedly working for, and evidence during the trial was heavily redacted or withheld — even from the judge.
Tang and Tsui were both granted bail pending appeal on Saturday, while Chow remains in custody awaiting trial in a separate national security case.
Two other Hong Kong Alliance members had previously pleaded guilty and were each sentenced to three months in jail in 2021 and 2022.
Hong Kong used to be the only place on Chinese soil where large-scale remembrance of the Tiananmen crackdown was tolerated, unlike in the mainland where the topic is heavily censored.
Chow said on Saturday that the Alliance had long campaigned for those in mainland China who were penalised for keeping Tiananmen’s memory alive.
Hong Kong’s movement for democracy and human rights was “homegrown and not some sinister foreign implant”, she added.