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Hong Kong activist behind Tiananmen vigil sentenced to 15 months prison

Activist Chow Hang-tung, of the
since-closed Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in
China, was arrested the day before the June 4 anniversary of the crackdown last
year.

Police have banned Hong Kong’s annual
Tiananmen vigils for the last two years, citing coronavirus restrictions.

But coming after the mass pro-democracy
protests in 2019, many activists saw the bans as an attempt to shut down
displays of defiance to Beijing. Authorities denied that was the reason.

Despite the ban, thousands lit candles
across the city in 2020, and smaller crowds did the same in 2021.

Chow’s charge relates to social media
posts titled “Lighting a candle is not a crime: Stand one’s ground,”
and her Ming Pao newspaper article titled “Candlelight carries the weight
of conscience and the Hong Kong people persevere in telling the truth.”

Magistrate Amy Chan in the West Kowloon
Magistrates’ Court said she found the posts and article were meant “to
encourage, persuade, make suggestions to and put pressure on members of the public,”
and “amounted to inciting others to knowingly take part in an unauthorised
assembly.”

Chan added the assembly caused “a
public health risk.”

Chow, who represented herself, had
pleaded not guilty, saying she wanted to “incite others not to forget June
4,” not to encourage a gathering. Chan said she found the argument
“simply unbelievable,” adding Chow’s academic qualifications would
have allowed her to be more clear in her writing.

“It can be foreseen that the public
space to discuss June 4 will disappear entirely,” a tearful Chow told the
court after the verdict. “Tyranny is greedy, red lines will keep
expanding.”

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Last month, eight pro-democracy
activists were sentenced to up to 14 months for their role in the 2020 vigil.
Among them, Chow received a 12-month sentence.

Five months of the sentence announced on
Tuesday will run concurrently, meaning Chow will only serve 10 months in
addition to her previous sentence.

STATUES REMOVED, MUSEUM CLOSED

Sixteen other activists are already
serving sentences of 4-10 months related to the 2020 vigil. Two democracy
campaigners facing similar charges, Nathan Law and Sunny Cheung, had fled Hong
Kong before they were charged.

Chow also faces charges of inciting
subversion under a sweeping security law imposed by Beijing in 2020. The
Alliance dissolved amid that investigation, with police accusing it of being an
“agent of foreign forces,” which the group had denied.

The former British colony, which
returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of wide-ranging freedoms,
traditionally holds the largest June 4 vigil in the world.

But commemorations have become
increasingly difficult. Last month, top international universities across the
global financial hub removed Tiananmen monuments, including the “Pillar of
Shame” in the University of Hong Kong and the “Goddess of
Democracy” at Chinese University. .

A June 4 museum was raided by police
during the investigation into the Alliance and shut, and its online version
cannot be accessed in Hong Kong.

China has never provided a full account
of the 1989 crackdown. The death toll given by officials days later was about
300, most of them soldiers, but rights groups and witnesses say thousands may
have been killed.

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