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Leaders of vigil marking Tiananmen Square charged with subversion in Hong Kong

Police in van with arrested democracy activist
Chow Han-tung, vice chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, sits in the back of a police van Friday.
(Kin Cheung / Associated Press)

Three leaders of the group that organized annual candlelight vigils commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre were charged with subversion Friday under Hong Kong’s national security law, as authorities intensify a crackdown on dissent in the city.

Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, and vice chairs Albert Ho and Chow Hang-tung were charged with inciting subversion of state power under the national security law. The alliance itself was also charged with subversion.

Chow was denied bail, days after she was arrested for failing to comply with a police request for information. Lee and Ho are currently serving jail sentences for their roles in unauthorized assemblies in 2019. The next court hearing for the case is scheduled for Oct. 28.

For the last 30 years, the alliance organized the candlelight vigil that saw tens of thousands of people mass in the city’s Victoria Park to commemorate China’s bloody military crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

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It was the only large-scale public commemoration of the crackdown on Chinese soil, featuring crowds of people lighting candles and singing songs to support democracy.

Police have banned the vigils for the last two years, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, although critics believe the ban is part of the crackdown on dissent that Beijing and Hong Kong’s leaders have waged following months of anti-government protests in the territory in 2019.

Thousands of people from Hong Kong are fleeing increasing Chinese control over their lives and moving to Britain, which ruled the city for 156 years.

Authorities have now characterized the organizing group as a foreign agent and sought details about its operations and finances in connection with alleged activities and links with democracy groups overseas.

Chow and four other leading members of the alliance had refused to cooperate with the police request for information, and were arrested this week for failing to comply.

The five pleaded not guilty Friday and were denied bail. The next court hearing will take place Oct. 21.

Police on Thursday confiscated computers, documents and promotional materials from the closed June 4 Memorial Museum, which was run by the alliance.

Hundreds of people gather in Hong Kong despite a ban on an annual vigil remembering China’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square.

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Police said about $280,000 worth of assets belonging to the alliance were also frozen.

On Friday, a Facebook message was posted on Chow’s account urging Hong Kongers not to “accept their fate.”

“Maybe the other party will crush the ‘obstacle’ that is us, but resistance is about gathering strength in exchange for some time and space, to allow more ‘obstacles’ the opportunity to grow,” the post said.

“As long as we still have the will to fight, we have not lost.”

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Over the last year, dozens of pro-democracy activists have been arrested, others have left the city for exile abroad, and the city has amended electoral laws to increase the number of seats for pro-Beijing legislators while reducing those that are directly elected.

The national security law, imposed by Beijing last year, criminalizes subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion to interfere in Hong Kong’s affairs.

Critics say the law, which has been used to arrest more than 100 people, rolls back freedoms promised to the former British colony when it was handed over to China in 1997. Hong Kong had been promised that, for 50 years, it could maintain freedoms not found on the mainland, such as freedom of speech and assembly.


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