Nat. security trial for Tiananmen crackdown vigil group members to begin November at earliest

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Nat. security trial for Tiananmen crackdown vigil group members to begin November at earliest
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The national security trial for three members of the group that held annual candlelight vigils to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown will begin no earlier than November, a court has heard.

Chow Hang-tung. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Chow Hang-tung, Albert Ho, and Lee Cheuk-yan, formerly of the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, appeared before judges Johnny Chan, Alex Lee, and Anna Lai for a case management hearing on Monday at the High Court.

The panel of designated judges set dates for the defence and the prosecution to exchange reports, with the last submission deadline being November 4, 2024.

The three democrats, along with the Alliance itself, were charged in September 2021 under the Beijing-imposed national security law for allegedly inciting other people “to organise, plan, commit or participate in acts by unlawful means with a view to subverting the State power”.

Expert witness

Chow, former vice-chair of the Alliance, told the three judges that she intends to submit to the court an expert witness report from an academic based in the US.

candle tiananmen vigil june 4 victoria park 2020
Photo: Tam Ming Keung/United Social Press.

The initial report would be submitted on May 20, after which reports and responses would go back and forth between the defence and the prosecution until November 4, leading judge Alex Lee said.

Chow told the court she intended to call “five or six” overseas witnesses, including the expert witness, adding that she would apply to have them testify over a video conference call.

Chow said she was reluctant to disclose the identities of the witnesses, other than the expert. But Lee said the court would not have sufficient information to consider the application if she did not provide names.

Lee Cheuk-yan
Lee Cheuk-yan. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions William Tam said that Chow had to provide the grounds for calling an expert witness from overseas. Judge Lee agreed, and ordered Chow to submit her application to both the court and the prosecution.

The Tiananmen crackdown occurred on June 4, 1989 ending months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, died when the People’s Liberation Army cracked down on protesters in Beijing.

Application to remove judge

Chow also told the court that she was applying to have judge Lai removed from the bench as she had previously handled Chow’s appeal against her conviction in a case involving the Alliance’s refusal to hand over data to the police.

High Court.
High Court. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Details in that case were the “prelude” to the subversion case, Chow told the court, adding that Lai had seen preliminary police investigation materials under Public Interest Immunity (PII) that were kept from the defence last March.

She appeared to be referring to an organisation left unnamed in court last March, after the prosecution applied for a PII declaration.

Chow was cut short, however, with Judge Lee saying that she needed to submit a formal application with grounds for the application and a written statement. He gave Chow a deadline of March 22 to file her submission to the court and the prosecution.

Former pro-democracy lawmaker Albert Ho brought away by national security police from his home on March 21, 2023.
Former pro-democracy lawmaker Albert Ho brought away by national security police from his home on March 21, 2023. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Judge Lee settled on April 24 for the second case management hearing, where he would “hopefully” provide a tentative trial date for the Alliance’s case. He added that the court would have to consider more details to assess whether the trial could feasibly begin by the end of the year.

The judge said the trial would take 70 days, counting closing submissions.

Members of the public gallery waved at the defendants, as they were taken back into detention, shouting, “Hang in there!”

Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution in June 2020 following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts – broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers and led to hundreds of arrests amid new legal precedents, while dozens of civil society groups disappeared. The authorities say it restored stability and peace to the city, rejecting criticism from trade partners, the UN and NGOs.

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