Today, we mark a year since the arrest of human rights defender and lawyer Chow Hang Tung.
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Asia Democracy Network (ADN), and Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) call for her immediate and unconditional release. We also call for the release of other activists in detention and urge the Hong Kong government to halt its systematic and brutal clampdown on human rights defenders in the territory.
Chow Hang Tung was arrested and detained on June 4 2021, for her involvement in the now-banned vigils to commemorate the victims of the 1989 lethal crackdown on peaceful pro-democracy protesters. While she was released on bail the next day, she was arrested again on June 30, 2021, after police revoked her bail. On August 5 2021, she was again granted bail, but all her travel documents were confiscated. On September 30 and October 11 2021, the West Kowloon Magistrates' Court denied her bail for the third and fourth times.
On December 13 2021, the courts convicted her and sentenced her to 12 months imprisonment for participating in an unauthorised assembly and inciting others to do the same concerning the Tiananmen vigil in June 2020. On January 4 2022, she was sentenced to an additional 15 months in jail, with five to be served concurrently, for inciting others to participate in the 2021 Tiananmen vigil by publishing two pieces calling on Hong Kong residents to mark the day by lighting candles.
Chow Hang Tung was one of the four vice-chairs of the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement of China (HKA). The HKA was the main organiser of the annual Tiananmen vigils – an event of remembrance of the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989. She had also been proactively campaigning to release political prisoners and safeguard democracy in Hong Kong. She and the HKA had been under the scrutiny of Hong Kong authorities, particularly since the National Security Law adoption in June 2020. In September 2021, the police froze the assets of the HKA before ordering the organisation to deregister in October.
Chow Hang Tung is also facing charges of "inciting subversion of state power", together with Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho, the chair and vice-chair of the HKA. The indictment states that they were suspected of inciting others to subvert the Chinese regime in Hong Kong between July 1 2020, and September 8 2021. Furthermore, Chow and four other HKA executive committee members have been charged with "not complying with the requirement to provide information" under Article 43 of Hong Kong's National Security Law after the police accused the HKA of being backed by "foreign agents" and demanded that it provide information for the police investigation.
In October 2021, four UN experts, namely the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-terrorism, Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Expression, and Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders raised concerns about the arrest of Chow Hang Tung and highlighted the urgency of the Hong Kong government to review the draconian National Security Law.
Chow Hang Tung's case exemplifies Hong Kong's deterioration of civic space and the systematic criminalisation of human rights defenders since Beijing imposed the draconian National Security Law on Hong Kong. Between July 2020 and March 2022, the law was used to criminalise all forms of dissent, with 183 people arrested under it. Dozens of pro-democracy activists have been arrested and jailed, civil society groups, protest movements and unions have been forced to disband, and the media has also been targeted.
The national security law has been used to silence activism is a violation of international law, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) adopted domestically as the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance. The repression against pro-democracy activists and other critics has led to the dismantling of civil society in Hong Kong, forcing many to flee the territory. The international community must not remain silent in the face of such abuses. Still, it must stand up and demand the release of all detained activists, including Chow Hang Tung, and create a safe and secure environment for civil society and human rights defenders to work without fear of reprisals.
Chow Hang Tung is one of a group of leading human rights defenders who feature in CIVICUS' global campaign #StandAsMyWitness. The campaign urges people to call for an end to the imprisonment and harassment of human rights defenders across the world.
Who is Chow Hang-tung❓— CIVICUS (@CIVICUSalliance) April 30, 2022
📌A Lawyer & Women's human rights defender
📌Advocates for labour rights & the rights of persecuted #HRDs in mainland China
📌Arrested & detained on 4 June 2021 for her activism
✊ Act now & call for her release