Three former Tiananmen Square vigil organizers in Hong Kong were given four and a half months in prison on Saturday for refusing to turn over records to the national security police.
Hong Kong authorities banned the candlelight vigil to remember those killed in China’s bloody crackdown on peaceful protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, in 2020, just weeks before China passed a broad national security law to stifle political dissent in the city.
The Hong Kong Alliance, which had organized the vigil for three decades, was responsible for the failure to turn over a variety of documents, including meeting minutes and financial records. Three of its leaders were found guilty last week.
On the grounds that the organization was a possible “foreign agent,” authorities had demanded that the documents be turned over.
The sentence needed to be “punitive and sufficiently deterrent,” according to Magistrate Peter Law, because national security was of the utmost importance.
Chow Hang-tung vowed to “fight falsehood with truth” in a defiant courtroom speech after being imprisoned along with two other senior Alliance members Tang Ngok-kwan and Tsui Hon-kwong.
If you must, sentence us for our disobedience, but she continued, “To be disobedient is the only way to be human when the exercise of power is based on lies.
“We know for a fact that we are not foreign agents, and nothing has come to light during this year-long ordeal to show otherwise,” the statement reads.
According to the security law, which was implemented after months of massive and occasionally violent pro-democracy demonstrations, police can request a wide range of organizational, financial, and operational information from any individual or organization that they believe to be a “foreign agent” in Hong Kong.
The Alliance’s purported employer was never identified by the prosecution, and much of the evidence presented at trial was heavily redacted or withheld, even from the judge.
On Saturday, bail was granted to Tang and Tsui pending appeal, but Chow is still being held while he awaits trial in a different national security case.
Two additional members of the Hong Kong Alliance had previously entered guilty pleas and received three-month prison terms in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
The sentence was described as “another example of the authorities abusing legislation to suppress fundamental freedoms” by Nabila Massrali, the spokesperson for the EU’s foreign policy chief, in a tweet.
In contrast to the mainland where the subject is strictly controlled, large-scale remembrance of the Tiananmen crackdown used to be tolerated only in Hong Kong.
On Saturday, Chow stated that the Alliance had long advocated on behalf of those in mainland China who were punished for upholding the memory of Tiananmen.
The “homegrown and not some sinister foreign implant” movement for democracy and human rights in Hong Kong, she added.