Chow Hang Tung is the former leader of the now-disbanded Hong Kong Alliance, which used to organise the city's huge annual candlelight vigils to commemorate those who died in China's 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

Chow was arrested the day before the June 4 anniversary of the crackdown last year.
Chow was arrested the day before the June 4 anniversary of the crackdown last year. (Reuters)

A Hong Kong court has found a 36-year-old barrister guilty of inciting an unauthorised assembly for an annual vigil to commemorate those who died in China's 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

"The law never allows anyone to exercise their freedom by unlawful means," magistrate Amy Chan ruled on Tuesday.

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.

In delivering her verdict, Magistrate Amy Chan in the West Kowloon Magistrates' Court said the assembly caused "a public health risk." Sentencing is expected later on Tuesday.

Police have banned the vigils in the last two years, citing coronavirus restrictions.

But coming after the mass anti-Beijing 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.

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Crackdown on dissent

Chow, who represented herself, had pleaded not guilty, saying she wanted to "incite others not to forget June 4," not to encourage a gathering.

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

Sixteen other activists are already serving sentences of 4-10 months related to the 2020 vigil. Two anti-Beijing campaigners facing similar charges, Nathan Law and Sunny Cheung, have fled Hong Kong.

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.

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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.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies