Hong Kong: Chronology of harassment against human rights defender Chow Hang-tung

CHOW HANG TUNGChow Hang-Tung is a human rights lawyer, pro-democracy activist and 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.

On 13 December 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 4 January 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. 

She is also facing charges of "inciting subversion of state power and "not complying with the requirement to provide information" under Article 43 of Hong Kong's National Security Law.

Updated January 2023


4 June 2021:  Chow Hang-tung was arrested by Hong Kong police on the 32nd anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown for inciting an unauthorised assembly after she urged people to mark the Tiananmen Massacre by lighting candles and said she would do so in a public space.

5 June 2021: Chow was released on bail.

30 June 2021: Police re-arrested Chow and her bail was revoked for allegedly encouraging others to join a banned rally for the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China that was to be celebrated on 1 July 2021. No charges were brought against her in connection with the banned event.

2 July 2021: Chow appeared before the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts, which refused to grant her bail. She was detained at the New South Territories police station.

5 August 2021: Chow was granted bail by a Hong Kong court after being remanded in custody for over a month. Chow had to pay a cash bail of HK$50,000, offer a surety of HK$50,000, hand over all travel documents, and submit a declaration that she does not hold a BNO passport.

25 August 2021: The standing committee members of the Hong Kong Alliance including Chow received letters from the police national security unit. The letters required them to provide information under paragraph 5 of Article 43 of the National Security Law.  Police officers visited the homes of the organisation’s committee members to serve the letters.

8 September 2021: Chow and several members of The Hong Kong Alliance were arrested after the group was accused of working as a "foreign agent". The arrests were made under the national security law

10 September 2021:  Chow and two others were charged with subversion. A Hong Kong court denied her bail.

24 September 2021: Chow appeared before the West Kowloon Magistrates Court for her second bail review hearing. The judge denied her bail on the same basis as the last review, that he has "insufficient ground for believing she would not continue to commit acts endangering national security."

25 September 2021: The Hong Kong Alliance announced it was disbanding. Authorities froze 2.2 million Hong Kong dollars (USD 283,000) of the group’s assets this month after it was charged 

29 September 2021:  The National Security Department informed the Hong Kong Alliance that its assets, including bank accounts and a property, were frozen under the Implementing Rules of Article 43 of national security law. 

30 September 2021: The West Kowloon Magistrates' Court denied bail for the third time

11 October 2021: the West Kowloon Magistrates' Court denied bail for the fourth time.

12 October 2021: Four UN experts, namely the UN Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights and Counter-terrorism, the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, the Rights to Freedom of Expression, and on Human Rights Defenders raised concerns over the arrest of Chow and highlighted the urgent need for the Hong Kong government to review the draconian National Security Law.

22 October 2021: The presiding judge granted bail, for the first time, to Chow and four other human rights defenders. However, Chow Hang-tung remained in remand on a separate charge of "inciting subversion of State power

26 October 2021: The Chief Executive ordered the Hong Kong Alliance be removed from Companies Register because the Alliance’s work, including organizing peaceful assemblies, undermines the Central governments’ “ability to safeguard national security and to maintain public safety and order”

1 November 2021: Chow pleaded not guilty to the charges levelled against her for their role in the Tiananmen vigil

6 December 2021: Chow's application for bail, the sixth since her arrest in September 2021, was denied by a Hong Kong court 

9 December 2021: A Hong Kong court found Chow and two other prominent pro-democracy activists guilty over an unauthorised assembly on 4 June 2020 to mark Beijing's 1989 crackdown on protesters in and around Tiananmen Square.

13 December 2021: Chow received a 12 month sentence


4 January 2022: Chow was sentenced to 15 months in prison for incitement of a banned vigil to commemorate those who died in Beijing’s crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989. During Chow’s trial, prosecutors said the activist had incited others to take part in the vigil through articles published on her Facebook account and in the Ming Pao newspaper. The judge said five months of the sentence will run concurrently, meaning Chow will serve 10 months in addition to her current sentence.

14 February 2022: Chow made an application to the magistrate asking that the court reporting restrictions about her case under s87A(2) of the Magistrates Ordinance be lifted.

25 April 2022: The application asking that the court reporting restrictions to be lifted was refused by Principal Magistrate Peter Law Tak-chuen. 

31 May 2022: Chow launched a legal bid against a magistrate’s decision not to lift reporting restrictions for a national security case. The application was made against the decision of Principal Magistrate Peter Law, who is also a hand-picked national security judge, not to lift reporting restrictions on committal proceedings for the Alliance’s national security case. Reporting restrictions surrounding committal proceedings – whereby a magistrate determines whether there is enough evidence for case to be transferred to the Court of First Instance of the High Court for trial or sentence – mean that written and broadcast reports are limited to including only the name of the defendants, magistrates, and lawyers, the alleged offence, the court’s decision, whether legal aid was granted, and future court dates.

17 June 2022:  Chow has sought to appeal her conviction and sentence linked to last year’s June 4 assembly, which was banned by police for public health concerns. Judge Judianna Barnes of the High Court will hear Chow’s argument on 11 October 2022.

29 June 2022: It was reported that Chow had been denied access to some details of the prosecution’s case against her, two weeks ahead of the national security case going to trial. Chow made the request on for the particulars of the prosecution’s case accusing the group acting as a foreign agent in front of Principal Magistrate Peter Law at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts. She told the court that it would be “impossible” for her to prepare her case without knowing on what basis the prosecution was accusing the Alliance functioning as a foreign agent.

12 July 2022: Chow asked Hong Kong’s High Court to open committal proceedings in her case to the media, but a government lawyer objected on the grounds that this may jeopardise a fair trial. 

13 July 2022: A Hong Kong court was asked to determine if Chow and two former members of the Hong Kong Alliance can challenge the legality of a national security data probe. The trio were accused of “failing to comply with [a] notice to provide information” from the national security police. 

27 July 2022: The UN Human Rights Committee urged Hong Kong to repeal the national security law and, in the meantime, refrain from applying it. They also called on Hong Kong authorities to “refrain and reconsider” security law charges against human rights barrister Chow Hang-tung

2 August 2022: The High Court quashed the court reporting restriction. The High Court Judge Alex Lee Wan-teng ruled in favour of Chow’s application and overturned Law’s decision, asking him to grant an order that Law shall lift the reporting restrictions when handling Chow’s next application, which will allow open reporting of pre-trial proceedings – known as committal hearings - in a Hong Kong national security case for the first time.   In the judgement, Lee mentioned the magistrate had no discretion but to lift the reporting restrictions when the applicant made a request under s87A(2), and Law’s denial would impede a fair trial and that the application was ultra vires.  Lee also said the court “rejects” a contention by Hong Kong’s Secretary for Justice that lifting the reporting restrictions “would frustrate the ultimate aim of doing justice.”  

17 August 2022: Principal Magistrate Peter Law lifted the court reporting restriction for the upcoming preliminary inquiry of Chow Hang-tung’s NSL case, following the decision from the High Court. The preliminary hearing, a process for Magistrates to determine whether the prosecution has enough evidence to make a case against the defendant, would be conducted in an open court. 

2 September 2022: Preliminary inquiry for Chow Hang-tung was conducted, with Veronica Heung as the Acting Principal Magistrate. The process was conducted as an open court. 

9 September 2022: The National Security case against Chow Hang-tung was moved to the Court of First Instance, after Acting Principal Magistrate Veronica Heung ruled in the preliminary inquiry that the prosecution had sufficient evidence against her. The highest penalty for incitement to subversion is ten years imprisonment.

11 October 2022: Chow Hang-tung appeared before Judge Judianna Barnes of the High Court seeking an appeal against her conviction and 15-months sentence over the 2021 banned commemoration. The Judge will hand down the judgement at the end of December. 

26 October 2022: In a trial held at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court against her and two other former standing committee members of the Hong Kong Alliance, Tang Ngok-kwan and Tsui Hon-kwong, who stand accused of not complying with national security police’ request for information on the investigation under the National Security Law, Principal Magistrate Peter Law barred Chow Hang-tung from using the phrase “Tiananmen massacre” during the national security trial, with a magistrate instead urging her to use “proper terminology.”

14 December 2022: Chow won an appeal against the conviction and 15-month prison term over the banned 4 June vigil in 2021. In a written judgement, Court of First Instance judge Judianna Barnes said police did not exercise their responsibility in allowing and facilitating a peaceful public assembly wherever feasible, as stated in the Public Order Ordinance. The judge added that while Chow had called for people to gather at Victoria Park, her action was not a crime as the ban was not legally sound. While her 15-month sentence, which was meant to end in January 2023, has been repealed, Chow will remain in detention over her two national security cases.