Hong Kong: Tiananmen vigil convictions an affront to human rights and international law

9 December 2021, 17:34 UTC |

Responding to the convictions of three Hong Kong pro-democracy figures – Jimmy Lai, Gwyneth Ho and Chow Hang-tung – over their involvement in the city’s annual Tiananmen vigil on 4 June 2020, Amnesty International’s Deputy Secretary General Kyle Ward said: 

“The Hong Kong government has once again flouted international law by convicting activists simply for their involvement in a peaceful, socially distanced vigil for those killed by Chinese troops on 4 June 1989. 

Kyle Ward, Deputy Secretary, Amnesty International

“The authorities have deemed the vigil ‘unlawful’ because the police did not approve it, but peaceful assembly does not need government approval. These convictions merely underline the pattern of the Hong Kong authorities’ extreme efforts to exploit the law to press multiple trumped-up charges against prominent activists.  

“People should be free to peacefully mourn and remember the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown – and to prosecute people for doing so is an egregious attack on the rights to freedom of expression and assembly.” 

Background 

Jimmy Lai and Chow Hang-tung were today convicted of inciting others to take part in the “unauthorized” Tiananmen crackdown vigil in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park on 4 June 2020. Chow Hang-tung was also found guilty of taking part in an “unauthorized” assembly, while Gwyneth Ho was convicted of taking part in an “unauthorized” assembly. 

Several who pleaded guilty to charges of participating in an “unauthorized assembly” have already been sentenced to up to 10 months in prison. 

Like many other prominent political activists in Hong Kong, Lai, Chow and Ho are facing multiple charges – some that could bring potential life imprisonment under the territory’s national security law. They are currently held in prolonged pre-trial detention without bail. 

Jimmy Lai, founder of defunct newspaper Apple Daily, has been held in pre-trial detention for nearly a year and is the subject of a string of prosecutions. 

He was arrested in August 2020 for colluding with foreign forces, sedition, and fraud. In April 2021, he was sentenced to 14 months’ imprisonment for organizing and joining illegal assemblies on 18 and 31 August 2019.  

The same month, he was additionally charged with colluding with foreign forces and conspiracy to obstruct the course of justice. In May 2021, he was sentenced to a further 14 months’ imprisonment for organizing an unauthorized assembly on 1 October 2019.  

Chow Hang-tung is a former leader of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (the Alliance), which disbanded after authorities used the annual Tiananmen candlelight vigil it has organized for 30 years as evidence of the group “endangering national security”. 

In September 2021, she was charged with “inciting subversion of state power” under the national security law, along with two other [former] Alliance leaders. In the same month, Chow was also charged under the national security law with three former leaders of the Alliance after they refused to comply with the authorities’ request to submit information about the Alliance’s members, staff and partner organizations. She was also arrested in June 2021 for “advertising or publicizing unauthorized assembly” after she posted on social media asking people to individually commemorate the Tiananmen crackdown that year as the public vigil was banned again.  

Gwyneth Ho, a journalist turned activist, is one of 47 opposition politicians prosecuted earlier this year under the national security law for running in election “primaries” in July 2020. She has been held in pre-trial detention for nearly a year for “conspiring to subvert state power”. 

On the evening of 3–4 June 1989, hundreds – possibly thousands – of people were killed in Beijing when troops opened fire on students and workers who had been peacefully calling for political and economic reforms as well as an end to corruption. An unknown number of people were killed and jailed in similar crackdowns throughout the country. No one knows the exact number of fatalities since the Chinese authorities have stifled and censored discussion of the crackdown for the past three decades. 

Hongkongers attending an annual Tiananmen vigil in the city’s Victoria Park since 1990 have called on the Chinese authorities to reveal the truth about what happened and take responsibility for the killings. The vigil has been banned for the past two years, ostensibly on Covid-19 grounds. 

Under Hong Kong’s Public Order Ordinance, permission from police is required to stage an assembly or procession. Without it, the event is considered “unauthorized” and organizers and participants can be fined or imprisoned. This runs counter to international law, which makes clear that state authorities cannot require prior approval, but only notification, to help facilitate orderly assemblies.