Chow Hang-tung, the former vice-chairperson of the group that organised Hong Kong’s Tiananmen vigils, has been in detention since September 2021 for allegedly inciting subversion under the national security law.
By James Lee
December 13, 2023
Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Chow Hang-tung, who has been detained for two years under the national security law, has been awarded a human rights prize by the foreign ministries of France and Germany.
Chow Hang-tung, former leader of the group that organised Hong Kong’s annual Tiananmen vigils, was escorted to Court of Final Appeal on June 8, 2023. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.
The 12 winners of the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law were announced by the French and German foreign ministries on Tuesday. The award honours “civil society’s commitment to human dignity and the inalienable human rights of all people,” according to press releases issued by the ministries.
The awardees “head non-governmental organisations and are lawyers, journalists or activists working to defend the inalienable rights of each and every human being,” the press releases read.
Chow, a human rights lawyer, was formerly the vice-chairperson of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China – the organisation behind the city’s annual vigils to remember the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. The group disbanded in 2021 along with dozens of other civil society organisations in the wake of the national security law, which was imposed on the city by Beijing in 2020.
The 38-year-old has been charged and sentenced in relation to Tiananmen vigils in 2020 and 2021. She is awaiting for allegedly inciting subversion under the national security law, and is separately appealing her conviction and sentencing in a security law case over refusing a data request by national security police.
The statement continued: “The [winners] stand up for those whose voices would often not be heard without them, such as women, refugees, LGBTIQ+ people and prisoners.”
The German ministry’s statement lists Chow as being from China, whereas the French foreign ministry’s statement, in French, states that she hails from “Hong Kong (China)”.
The list also includes awardees from Syria, Venezuela, the Central African Republic, Iraq, Lebanon, Poland, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Cook Islands.
The winners were lauded for their commitment “to the cause of justice, political participation and unbiased reporting in the media, often risking their own freedom, frequently even their lives, under the most difficult conditions.”
The government said in a statement on Wednesday that it firmly opposed the “so-called ‘human rights and rule of law’ prize being awarded to Chow Hang-tung.”
“Chow Hang-tung has been charged with one count of incitement of subversion. The case is being handled by the High Court’s Court of First Instance and is pending trial,” the Chinese statement read.
“Legal procedures are underway, yet the France’s and Germany’s foreign ministries awarded the so-called prize to Chow Hang-tung in the name of ‘human rights’ and ‘rule of law,'” the statement continued, adding that the move “clearly ran counter to respect for the rule of law.”
A national security law banner. Photo: GovHK.
Beijing imposed national security legislation in Hong Kong in June 2020 following pro-democracy protests and unrest over a controversial extradition bill. 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 convictions amid new legal precedents. The city’s press freedom index has also plummeted. Authorities, however, maintain that the law has restored stability and peace to the city.
2 years in detention
The award from the France and German ministries is the latest international prize recognising Chow’s contributions to human rights.
In May, a Korean organisation picked Chow as the winner of the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights. The organisation told HKFP that Chinese officials visited its office after she was awarded, saying that the prize should not be given to Chow as she was a “criminal under detention.”
In February, US politicians nominated Chow and other local activists for the Nobel Peace Prize. The activists – which included Jimmy Lai, Joshua Wong, Gwyneth Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan and Cardinal Zen – were described as “ardent champions” of human rights in the city.
Chow Hang-tung. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.
The Security Bureau said in response to HKFP at the time that it strongly objected to “any measures taken by external forces to flagrantly glorify the illegal acts of any person or to interfere in the affairs of [Hong Kong].”
Chow has been in detention since September 2021 pending trial for allegedly inciting subversion under the national security law. A date for proceedings has yet to be set.
In December 2021, she was sentenced to 12 months in jail over her involvement in the 2020 Tiananmen crackdown vigil.
Chow won an appeal last December against her conviction and 15-month sentence over inciting others to participate in the 2021 Tiananmen vigil. But the government has been granted the chance to appeal her acquittal at the city’s top court.
Last Thursday, Chow and other members of the Alliance appeared at the High Court to appeal their conviction and four-and-a-half-month jail sentence handed down in March over failing to comply with a national security police data request.