25 January 2024 – Today in Hong Kong the acquittal of pro-democracy activist Chow Hang-tung for a charge relating to organising a peaceful Tiananmen Massacre memorial was overturned by the city’s top court.
Chow Hang-tung (鄒幸彤) is a human rights lawyer and the former vice-chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which organised the city’s annual Tiananmen Massacre vigils before being forced to disband in 2021.
Last year she was among a group of five Hong Kong political prisoners nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
On 13 December 2021, she was sentenced to 12 months in prison over the banned 2020 vigil. On 4 January 2022, she was jailed for another 15 months over the banned 2021 vigil; the judge ordered 10 months of the sentence to be served consecutively with the December sentence, meaning that Chow was to spend a total of 22 months in jail.
In December 2022 she won an appeal against her 15-month sentence over “inciting unauthorised assembly” at the banned 2021 vigil. Hong Kong Police banned the vigil under the guise of Covid-19 precautions.
However, this decision has been unanimously reversed by a panel of five judges, including Chief Justice Andrew Cheung, permanent judges Roberto Ribeiro, Joseph Fok, and Johnson Lam, and overseas non-permanent judge Anthony Gleeson.
Following today’s ruling, Hang-tung will now face a retrial on charges relating to the banned 2021 vigil.
Alongside two other former Alliance leaders Albert Ho and Lee Cheuk-yan, she also remains imprisoned over a charge of "incitement to subversion", a crime under the National Security Law (NSL) over the banned 2020 vigil. This trial is expected to begin in the second half of 2024.
Hang-tung, whose birthday fell yesterday (January 24th), has now spent over 900 days behind bars, having been repeatedly refused bail.
She has also been subject to solitary confinement, including six periods between June and November 2023.
She is among hundreds of Hong Kongers who have been subject to unjust charges amid the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) crackdown on the city.
Overseas non-permanent judge Anthony Gleeson, who was among the judges behind today’s decision, is a retired Australian judge who served as the country’s Chief Justice from 1998 to 2008.
In 2022 two British judges and an Australian judge withdrew from Hong Kong’s Final Court of Appeal, many citing concerns that the continued presence risked endorsing the territory’s administration amid diminishing civil liberties and rule of law.
A number of retired non-permanent judges remain on the Court, including Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, Lord (Jonathan) Sumption and and former President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom Lord (David) Neuberger who currently chairs the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom, the independent advisory body to the Media Freedom Coalition NGO.
Mark Sabah, Director of The Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation (CFHK) said:
“Just like in the ongoing sham trial of Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, Hong Kong judges are running roughshod over civil liberties and rule of law, and are persecuting people who stand up for truth and democracy.
“The CFHK Foundation calls for the immediate release of Chow Hang-tung, and the dismissal of these bogus attempts to criminalise her peaceful pro-democracy activism
“We also urge the withdrawal of all overseas non-permanent judges from Hong Kong, as their presence risks allowing Hong Kong authorities to pretend that its citizens continue to have access to justice when they clearly do not. The disgraceful imprisonment of Chow Hang-tung and so many freedom-loving Hong Kongers like her has long proven this sad fact beyond reasonable doubt.”