05/28/2024, 20.13
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Tiananmen catalyst for first arrests under Hong Kong’s new national security law

New arrest order was issued for jailed lawyer Chow Hang-tung and five other people who tried to use Facebook to keep alive the memory of the victims of the student massacre 35 years ago. This comes a few days before the 4 June anniversary. The people charged face up to seven years in prison for “resisting memory rewriting.”

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Hong Kong police charged six people for “sedition" under the Special Administrative Region’s new national security law, which was approved in March.

The people targeted are well-known figures and their crime of opinion is connected to 4 June, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. One of them is lawyer Chow Hang-tung who was notified today of the new charge directly in prison.

As one of the organisers of the annual vigil in remembrance of the victims of the 1989 repression, she was a symbolic voice in the battle for freedom in Hong Kong, whose lucid indictment of  the crackdown, AsiaNews published a few months ago after it was brought out of prison.

The other five people were never charged before, but through a Facebook page dedicated to Chow, they published over the past few weeks, material related to the memory and commemorations of the students slaughtered in Beijing.

Hong Kong’s National Security Department said that Chow, with the help of the other five people, used social media starting in April to "exploit an upcoming sensitive date" to “provoke hatred” towards the central authorities, the city government, and the judiciary. The sensitive date is, of course, 4 June, which can no longer be mentioned in Hong Kong.

Police officers searched the homes of the five people arrested – four women and one man, aged 37 to 65 – and seized various items, including electronic devices. For the crime of "sedition", they face up to seven years in prison.

At a press conference this afternoon, Security Secretary Chris Tang Ping-keung said that “the crime is not about the subject”, but about inciting “hatred against the central government and our Hong Kong government and the judiciary.”

The Facebook page in question is called ChowHangTungClub. Since 30 April, it has been publishing daily posts in memory of the events in Tiananmen Square and the vigils held in Hong Kong until 2019 to remember them.

The initiative is linked to Chow’s legal battle. She was arrested for her role in organising commemorations in Victoria Park. For this reason, she has been in prison since September 2021, and is still awaiting trial after almost three years.

In a post published on 1 April, Chow asks people to contribute their story by writing to a certain email.

She went to say:

“So, if you have been one of the candlelight bearers in the past thirty years, whether on stage or off, inside or outside the venue, locally or overseas, I sincerely invite you to leave your testimony in this trial, to share your experiences and the meaning of that period.

“If you are willing to testify in the court, I am immensely grateful; if you cannot, leaving behind these records means preserving our true narrative.

“Thus, regardless of how the prosecution tries to diminish or distort our shared past with their language, we will not lose our way back, and we can find strength to move forward from the narratives within our community. This is also a form of remembering and forgetting... no, it's resisting memory rewriting.

“Yes, I am laying out our cards openly, which in ordinary lawsuits is often seen as naive and disadvantageous,” writes Chow. “However, we must break free from the misconception that #PoliticalProsecutions are equivalent to criminal cases: ordinary ‘criminal acts’ are often hidden, not necessarily visible, with only the defendant knowing the full truth, and the prosecution's task is to uncover what lies in the darkness.

“In such cases, the most ‘advantageous’ strategy for the defendant is to remain silent. But our political case is different; the ‘criminal acts’ we are accused of are inherently public, involving the participation of many, it is not about the defendant's private affairs.

“The role of the prosecution is not to uncover the truth but to suppress it – selectively extracting and burying public records that are already in the sunlight, to construct a narrative of crime and leave an authoritative record in the courtroom.

“Therefore, what is most ‘advantageous’ for us is not to play along with the game of rewriting history by a few, controlled by the prosecution, but to return the power of writing history to everyone, allowing all facts to be seen. In this case, regarding the events of June Fourth, it's the prosecution, not us, who wants to conceal and trivialize matters!”

Since it was set up, the ChowHangTungClub Facebook page has attracted just over 6,500 followers, which is not all that great for Hong Kong. But the very fact that someone has overcome fear and provided their own stories, is a “challenge” to be snuffed out for Hong Kong’s rulers.

Indeed, “Those who intend to endanger national security should not delude themselves to think that they can evade police investigation by posting online anonymously,” reads a police statement. “The general public must recognise the truth,” it goes on to say, “and not to be deceived by false and distorted information” that might endanger national security.

This is as clear a warning as any a week before the 35th anniversary of the events of Tiananmen Square.

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