Barrister Activist Charged Again Under NSL, Alleges HK Police Violated Constitution | In January, Hong Kong activist, barrister, and pro-democracy politician Tonyee Chow Hang-tung, convicted of multiple charges due to ...

Barrister Activist Charged Again Under NSL, Alleges HK Police Violated Constitution

Barrister Activist Charged Again Under NSL, Alleges HK Police Violated Constitution

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In January, Hong Kong activist, barrister, and pro-democracy politician Tonyee Chow Hang-tung, convicted of multiple charges due to commemorating the Tiananmen massacre, also known as the June 4 incident, in 2020 and 2021, was sentenced to 22 months in jail. On Dec. 3, Chow denied the police charges and said the police violated the constitution.

Chow Hang-tung’s case refers to the former vice-chairman of the group that organized Hong Kong’s annual Tiananmen vigils (the Alliance), Chow Hang-tung, who last year appealed to the public to participate in the June 4 vigil online and was charged with “inciting others to knowingly participate in an unauthorized assembly.” She was convicted in January this year, and Chow was sentenced to 15 months in prison, of which 10 months will be executed in installments with other cases, with Chow a total sentence of 22 months.

Until the National Security Law (NSL) was passed in Hong Kong in 2020, which has given an unprecedented change to the city’s long-cherished judicial independence, with the addition of designated judges for sensitive national security cases and the cancellation of the jury at the national security trial. The commemorative activities were banned, and several senior executives of Chow’s group were arrested.

Benedict Rogers, a British human rights activist, co-founder, and CEO of the Hong Kong Watch group discusses in detail the loss of press freedom in Hong Kong since the implementation of the NSL. “The implementation of the National Security Law—a law that abuses the vaguely defined term “national security” and criminalizes free speech and peaceful protest—changed everything…  One of the few bold voices in defense of Hong Kong’s freedom was Chinese-language Apple Daily, founded by the entrepreneur Jimmy Lai. Twenty years later, the newspaper was forced to close.”

Chow, the 36-year-old activist, was arrested by the police for rejecting a demand by police to surrender information regarding allegations that the Alliance was an “agent of foreign forces” on Sept. 8, 2021.

On Sep. 9, Chow, along with other executives and the Alliance itself, was charged with “incitement to subversion,” a crime under the NSL, over the banned 2020 vigil.

Chow denied the crime of “failing to comply with a notice to provide information.” The case was tried on Dec. 3.

Chow pointed out that the police’s claim that there was reason to believe that the Alliance was a “foreign agent” was unreasonable; in addition, the definition of endangering national security was too broad, and the request for a ruling on the case was unfounded.

However, the designated judge of the NSL and chief magistrate, Law Tak-chuen, ruled that the prima facie of all three defendants, including Chow, was established. Chow’s case will be testified, and the case will continue to be tried on Dec. 6.

The National Security Department of the police claimed that the Alliance had received $20,000 from “Organization 4.” Chow said that the police could not just rely on one transfer of money to accuse the Alliance of being a foreign agent. She also pointed out that any transfer of money from overseas cannot be regarded as a subsidy. Otherwise, alumni donations to a University or a company selling products overseas can make them become foreign agents. Hong Kong is an international city, but the police arbitrarily label anyone as a “foreign agent” and force citizens with international connections to hand over information, which is an infringement of international exchanges.

The definition of Endangering National Security is Too Broad

Chow also criticized that the definition of “endangering national security” is too broad, and it is easy to carry out arbitrary political prosecutions. “Anyone who says anything that makes the government unhappy can also be regarded as a crime.” She pointed out that protecting national security is not based on hiding the truth and prohibiting people from expressing their feelings.

Law once questioned the relevance of Chow’s speech to the case. Chow emphasized that this case is a political prosecution and lacks substantial evidence to accuse national security of being endangered.

Chow also questioned the necessity for the police to issue a notice regarding the police’s request for information from the Alliance, pointing out that the requested information includes information that can be easily obtained from public channels and even includes information from 1989. In addition, when the police issued the notice, it did not mention the human rights violations; the notice was considered unconstitutional.

Before Chow’s statement, the acting senior superintendent of the National Security Department was questioned. He claimed that he used the $20,000 that the Alliance received from “Organization 4” to assess whether the group was a foreign agent and whether a notice needed to be issued.

Chow said the $20,000 donation was the money deposited from the Japan branch of the Federation for a Democratic China, as part of a crowd-funding campaign for the expansion of the June 4th Museum between 2016 and 2019. The $20,000 donation accounted for about one-fourth of the cost of purchasing the museum.

She also claimed that the annual funding of the Alliance amounts to several million. It is absurd that the prosecution only relied on a sum of $20,000 after the group established for 29 years to claim it as the agent of the donor.

Chow emphasized that the group has always been a group formed spontaneously by Hong Kong people, not foreign agents. There are more than 200 member groups in the Alliance. The prosecution’s allegations are an insult to the entire civil society in Hong Kong, and it also obliterates the autonomy of civil society.

Tumped-up Charge by Public Power

Last year, the Secretary for Security said in a speech, everyone was discerning and clear whether the related Alliance’s members had acted as a “foreign agent” and the court would prove how they received the foreign interests. However, more than a year later, the government has been unable to prove in court that the Alliance is a foreign agent.

Chow criticized the Secretary for Security trumping-up a charge and being irresponsible. After all the damage that the government has done, “they can say they have no proof of their accusation, so what? In this case, What else is this except for blatant political persecution?”

The other two defendants, the group’s committee member Tang Ngok-kwan and Tsui Hon-kwong will not summon witnesses for the hearing. The other two defendants of the case, Simon Leung and Chan To-wai, had already pleaded guilty to the charge and were sentenced to three months in prison. Both of them were already released from the prison.

No Jury for National Security Charges

Chow and other executives of the group were charged with the crime of inciting subversion of state power under the NSL. The case was handed over to the High Court earlier. Chow was notified by the Secretary for Justice that there would be no jury in the case.

Chow posted a message on Facebook the same evening, bluntly saying that it was “not surprising.”

Chow also listed three reasons provided by the Department of Justice in the post, including “involvement of foreign factors,” “protection of personal safety of jurors and their family members,” “if the trial is conducted with a jury, there may be a risk of obstructing the proper administration of justice.”

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