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Act to my conscience


Editor's note: Below is the statement of defence of barrister and pro-democracy activist Tonyee Chow Hang-tung presented in court on October 25, 2021. The original statement in Chinese was published on CitizenNews website(【煽惑六四集會案】鄒幸彤自辯全文 ). The statement is translated by BeWaterHK and Guardians of Hong Kong, which are online media platforms established and run by volunteers in July 2019.

Your honour, I am the only defendant of this court case.

I am charged over an assembly that never happened. I am a barrister by profession. Towards the end of 2015, I became the vice-chairperson of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (the Alliance hereafter) until its announcement on September 25 to disband. I do not have any criminal records.

Currently, due to my relations with the Alliance, I am charged and detained for “inciting subversion” and “failing to submit information”. My attendance at the June 4th vigil in 2020 also brought me another charge for “inciting and attending an unauthorized assembly”. This case will be heard in November.

From the above information, the court will find it easy to realize that all my legal issues are related to the Alliance and June 4th. The multitude of these charges, moreover, reflects how the regime tried to suppress and erase the public memory of June 4th. This backdrop is the reason I wrote the two articles cited in this case.

In order to accurately comprehend the significance of these two articles, my intentions and yet another issue – whether or not the regime’s actions involve an inappropriate political agenda – one has to understand the causes and consequences of the two articles, instead of reading them superficially.

The Alliance was established during the 1989 pro-democracy movement, shouldering the hope of millions of Hongkongers for a democratic China. After the bloody crackdown, the Alliance had hoped to sustain the spirit of this peaceful movement and bring justice to the victims of the crackdown, by the candlelight of the annual June 4th vigils and the five operational goals of the Alliance: namely 1. Release the dissidents; 2. Rehabilitate the 1989 pro-democracy movement; 3. Demand accountability of the June 4th massacre; 4. End one-party dictatorship; 5. Build a democratic China.

“Let’s meet in Victoria Park on June 4th”

As a commitment and a symbol of conscience in the past 32 years, “Let’s meet in Victoria Park on June 4th” is one of the most important commitments of countless Hongkongers. It can even be deemed the most marked event of the year in Hong Kong and a symbol of Hongkongers’ conscience. Through the candlelight in Victoria Park and a perseverance that stunned the world, we have protected the truth of June 4th.

At least in Hong Kong, when we talk about “we all know the soldiers” indiscriminate shooting after the troops entered the city [Beijing]; Fang Zheng who had his legs ran over and crushed by a tank; the 9-year-old primary student who laid on a trolley bleeding; and the university students who went on hunger strike peacefully in Tiananmen Square. We know how this movement gained support from the whole country and even official units and institutions. We know names like Wang Dan, Wu’erkaixi [Örkesh Dölet] and Liu Xiaobo, as well as the “Tank Man” who confronted a forward-moving tank on his own in Chang’an Avenue. We also know the “Tiananmen Mothers” who suffered hardship just to mourn their children.

Nevertheless, such knowledge cannot be taken for granted, because the regime is constantly using its power, law and propaganda machine to wipe out and rewrite this piece of history.

In the Chinese Internet, the words “June 4th” cannot be located as it is one of the many “sensitive terms”. On the eve of June 4th every year, the Tiananmen Mothers and other dissidents are being closely monitored. Some are even arrested as a “preventive measure.” A few years ago, a journalist went to Beijing and interviewed college students with a photograph of the “Tank Man.” None of the interviewees could tell what had happened. In 2014, lawyer Po Zhiqiang organized a June 4th discussion forum with a few friends. He was arrested and sentenced for 4 years in jail. In 2016, Chen Bing, Ff Hailu, Luo Fuyu, and Zhang Junyong were charged for subversion only because they made a wine called “June 4th”. They were put in prison for almost three years until three of them were grantedsuspension. Other examples include Wang Yi, a pastor who organized a prayer service on June 4th; Yin Xu’an who only took a photo of a car registration plate with the numbers; Zhang Wuzhou who held a cardboard sign that read “Don’t forget June 4th.” They were all arrested and imprisoned. Hereby I wish to submit to the court a few defendants’ statements related to the aforementioned cases.

As I have just mentioned, we in Hong Kong know what the 1989 pro-democracy movement is about; however, due to the regime’s suppression, in north of Shenzhen River, it is referred to as an “anti-revolutionary riot”. People are taught that “the army entered the city only to suppress the riot and there was no massacre at all.”

Even in Macau which is also a Special Administrative Region, the Court of Final Appeal adopted the categorization of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and called the movement an “anti-revolutionary riot,” claiming that the killing of thousands of civilians and students is an untrue political propaganda. All these violations of truth did not happen in Hong Kong, largely because of the candlelight in Victoria Park.

In fact, the regime is very eager to erase the memories of June 4th in Hong Kong, the candlelight in Victoria Park, and the Alliance, just that it was not capable of doing so until this year.

When the Alliance was first established, it was designated by the CCP as an organization of subversion. Heavyweight figures from both China and Britain, including Xu Jiatuan and Allen Lee Peng-fei, went to meet Szeto Wah, the founder of the Alliance, to persuade him to disband the group but in vain.

Shortly after the handover, Tung Chee-Hwa, the first Chief Executive, continued to persuade Szeto to stop commemorating June 4th. He also failed.

When soft approaches didn’t work, hard-line ones came in. In 2010, the Goddess of Democracy statue that the Alliance displayed in Times Square was confiscated, and the police also arrested several members. The first permanent June 4th Museum we built in 2014 was harassed and forced to evict by a pro-China owners association. When we were establishing the second permanent June 4th Museum, it was sabotaged during renovation and liquid was spilled on our electric switches.

Last year the pandemic gave the regime the best excuse to prohibit all public expressions. The June 4th demonstration and assembly were banned for the first time. Despite this, many civilians still went to Victoria Park and candles were lit everywhere in Hong Kong. Seeing that the ban did not work, the government prosecuted a large number of civilians and the standing committee members of the Alliance in Victoria Park.

After the passing of the National Security Law (NSL), many from the pro-establishment camp spread rumours that the five operational goals of the Alliance are violating the NSL and that Beijing is going to eradicate the Alliance. They also dissuaded civilians from participating in the activities of the Alliance. We had run stalls in the Lunar New Year’s Eve market in Victoria Park for 31 years. This year the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department terminated our contract without a reason. The same department shut down our June 4th Museum.

Meanwhile, a Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) programme about June 4th was pulled off. Even a short footage about the June 4th marathon run at the end of a programme was being sternly condemned. Street stands with June 4th as a topic were constantly harassed and stopped, so were film screening events. Schools were a major disaster area where any content related to June 4th was removed from textbooks and history books. Everything was watered down and there was no mention of the troops killing civilians. Teachers dared not to invite the Alliance to do school visits and talk about what happened on June 4th. They can no longer bring students to visit the June 4th Museum.

June 4th memories are fading

Under oppression, the memories about June 4th are going to cease. Not surprisingly, the Police forbade the June 4th demonstration and candlelight vigil once again this year. Many witnessed how thousands of policemen surrounded Victoria Park on that very day, to prevent the candles from being lit in the park; however, this is not enough. The Hong Kong government exerted the power endorsed by Clause 43 of the NSL, to falsely accuse the Alliance of being a “foreign agent”.

By demanding tonnes of information, they forced us to shut down our website and social media platform, causing us to lose a vast amount of historical data about June 4th. Our committee members in the Alliance were all being charged and detained when we fought back with reasons. Even the Alliance as a [registered] company was charged with subversion. With all committee members in remand, the daily operations of the company stopped. The authority continued its attack, threatening to remove the company’s registration. Under such pressure, our members voted to disband the Alliance on September 25, putting a full stop on this 32-year-old organization.

Before the disbandment could be completed, the authority had frozen all our assets already. We cannot even afford our legal fees as of this moment.

Crackdown on civil society, ban even “Hong Kong, Add Oil”

As a whole, this chain of events is targeting the civil society and the opposition camp. Many figures in the pro-democracy camp were arrested and jailed. Even participating in an election is a crime. Many directly elected councillors were forced to resign or were disqualified. Numerous civic groups, labour unions or student unions were forced to dissolve. News outlets like the Apple Daily newspaper were shut down. The freedoms of press, speech, and to create face complete extinction at a time when it is not okay to wear even a tee shirt that reads “Hong Kong, Add Oil” in a marathon.

Banning the June 4th assembly is not an isolated event. The whole episode shows what the government is really aiming for: The regime wants to wipe out all voices of the opposition. Extinguishing the candlelight on June 4th is one of the ways.

Whether it is the pandemic or the “Public Order Ordinance” (POO), they are only convenient excuses. The fact that the government attacked the Alliance within 3 months after the ban exactly proves my earlier judgment.

What we can see is that the Alliance applied for the permission for assembly in writing at a very early stage, promising to adopt social distancing measures. The Alliance was open to negotiate any precaution guidelines against the pandemic, in order to proceed with the vigil.

Nevertheless, the police ignored the application for a whole month; routinely held a couple of “meetings”; and then quickly rejected the application, with no counter suggestion.

At the same time, what we can also see is that Carrie Lam announced the end of the fourth wave of the pandemic. Hongkongers went back to work, as well as the cinema, concerts and shopping malls, crowding up the MTR. From what I witnessed when going to work everyday, these activities have a density far higher than the June 4th vigil.

It is crystal clear to us: Places around the world seek ways to balance pandemic precautions with the rights to assemble, while Hong Kong simply bans all assemblies and demonstrations.

As we all know, legally the government has a responsibility to ensure assemblies can proceed smoothly; however, the police always toss the ball to the [assembly] applicants, claiming that the right to assemble is not absolute. The end.

It is crystal clear to us: The POO never authorized the police to prohibit assemblies by citing public hygiene as a reason; however, with the pandemic, the Police Commissioner unilaterally expands his power, and no one can keep him in check and balance.

Even if the June 4th vigil was banned, it should be about one assembly only; but the government expanded the scope of prohibition infinitely, claiming that all June 4th commemorations violate the law and anyone donning black will be arrested.

If we don’t resist, memories and the truth will be buried

Facing the police’s power abuse and the government’s aggressive eradication of our June 4th memories, the truth will be buried and the victims will be ignored, if we stay silent and do not resist.

As Li Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho Chun-yan, our chairman and vice-chairman [of the Alliance], are in prison, as the remaining vice-chairperson I bear a stronger responsibility to continue and push ahead with commemorative activities for June 4th.

Though we see the police’s ban as unconstitutional, as an organization with numerous members and baggage, the Alliance cannot run the risk of being prosecuted by exercising our rights. So we announced publicly that we would not hold the vigil at Victoria Park this year. This is also how my first Facebook article appeared, in which I expressed my deep regret for not being able to hold the event, letting all Hongkongers down.

The only way out was to make individual efforts, so that the candlelight that was supposed to twinkle in Victoria Park would continue to propagate. Therefore I published articles, conducted interviews, and set up street stalls, asking everyone to remember, to act for June 4th, and to overcome fear. We shall not hold back our basic right to the freedom of expression and action, nor be paralyzed by white terror, due to unreasonable threats from the regime.

Here I want to show the court the records of these street stalls and interviews, as well as the content of my public statement. While I could not find video footage of the street stall, I must thank the National Security Bureau who recorded what I said. Here I also have some news clippings showing what I mentioned during interviews.

I only asked everyone, wherever they are or wherever they can go, to light up a candle at 8pm on June 4th and spread the word.

As an alternative to assembly, this mode was developed as a response to the first ban of June 4th Vigil at Victoria Park last year. We must ensure public safety in order to mobilize more in a mass movement. Choosing each of their safe place individually allows a person to act according to one’s risk tolerance level.

Moreover, in order to be qualified as a collective action or a political expression, it should at least be expressed in public. If the court has to name such a call for action without even a specific place an incitement of unauthorized assembly, I am very puzzled.

What is this “assembly”? Where is it? Does it mean that regardless of location (in Hong Kong or other parts of the world), when someone lights up a candle at that very moment, that someone is participating in an unauthorized assembly? If the court insists to say so, why does it not directly admit that the ban is about commemorating June 4th itself?

Although the action to light up a candle on June 4th did not indicate any specific location, Victoria Park remains an iconic place bearing the highest significance and risk. Considering the rumours and the intimidations spread by the police, it is understandable that not many civilians are willing to go, or capable of going to Victoria Park. However, without any doubt, many want to see canglelight being lit there.

Having organized the candlelight vigil in Victoria Park for 30 years, We the Alliance bear the responsibility to make it to Victoria Park, as the candlelight there signifies a promise, perseverance and courage to live up our conscience.

After all, what legal offence can one person be committing by lighting up a candle and going to Victoria Park?

Light a candle on June 4th wherever you are

In legal terms, I cannot see why I am committing an offence by lighting up a candle and walking into Victoria Park. Even if I publicly state that I would do this, does that mean the law prohibits me from declaring it when I am conducting a lawful act? Does that mean if someone requests to hold an assembly but is rejected by the police, the police can seal up a public area, and ban everyone from expressing opinion on a related topic? Is the pandemic the real reason for cordoning off Victoria Park like a fortress?

Legal analysis is one matter, actual risk is, however, another. This is an inconvenient truth in Hong Kong, otherwise I won’t be in court.

I was willing to take this risk. I felt that I had the responsibility and I could not expect many people to do the same.

In addition to online exchanges and the social atmosphere at large, my communications with acquainted groups and civilians at the street stall clearly told me that it was impossible to expect a large-scale assembly this year as in the past.

If there were ten or twenty people trying to enter Victoria Park with me on June 4th, it would be a very good outcome. There was a much higher chance to have three or four people, or just myself. Even if I was only on my own, I would still do so.

After 32 years of precipitation, Victoria Park’s candlelight has become the most important symbol against dictatorship in this nation. The longer we can keep the candlelight, the stronger the freedom in Hong Kong and the truth of June 4th will be protected and last.

As long as we have one or a few candles lit in the park, we can still say Victoria Park’s candlelight has not died. When it is impossible to have a massive action together, at least we can use our individual power to commit acts with the most significant meaning and to maximize the intrinsic political force of these individual actions.

Like the “Tank Man”, he was not confronting the tank because he saw thousands of people following him. Instead, even if he was alone, he must do so because that was the correct act.

If we are to keep up the spirit and the perseverance of 1989, we have to have this kind of determination to persist, regardless of the number of us, during high and low tides. Of course, I will not deny that I really wanted to see the seas of candlelight in Victoria Park again, but at the same time I also had a clear judgment of the circumstances.

If one day there were only a few or no candles lit -- meaning that the regime had succeeded in extinguishing all candlelight --, then I would find it more compelling to explain to the public: the meaning behind the candles lit, the meaning behind the vigil for 32 years, and the reason the regime has such a huge urge to put out the candlelight in Victoria Park.

Claims of two articles inciting is over-estimating me and under-estimating Hongkongers 

If I didn’t speak out this year, there might be no chance later. The recent development of affairs has verified this. That was the reason why I wrote an article on Ming Pao. The article was a rushed product of my immature writing. However, the regime felt like discovering a treasure and a prime time to conduct literary inquisition. It even copied the mainland’s ways of oppressing June 4th by making a preventive arrest.

Early in the morning on June 4th, I was arrested and would be locked up for the next 30 hours. It prevented me from paying any tribute on that day. After that I was detained for over a month for the same case. Then the authority further escalated its action and claimed that our 32 years of commemorative activities had been subversive and incited by foreign influence.

I want to say that the driving force of Hongkongers in commemorating June 4th continuously for 32 years is never an incision from anyone. It is the conscience of everybody.

Although Victoria Park was cordoned off, people still lit candles or switched on the torch on their smartphone in Sai Kung, Tuen Mun, Causeway Bay, and Mongkok. There was no one summoning them to assemble in a certain locale. This is “Be Water”, the persistence of Hongkongers.

In 1989, I was only 4 years old. Many may wonder: Why must I be so stubborn on this matter? It is because of Hongkongers.

For every candle lit up in Victoria Park in the past 30 years, for every ordinary and kind-hearted Hongkongers, all of them taught me what it means by “choosing and sticking to what is right”.

What I did was only inheriting and channelling these voices of the ordinary people. All I did is what an ordinary Hong Kong citizen would want to do in this time, disallowing the authority from monopolizing all truth and opinions.

If the court has to use the terms “incitement” or "being incited,” I would rather say Hongkongers “incited” me to act according to my conscience. If I am thereby sentenced, I have no regrets.

This is my testimony.

Chow Hang-tung