The conviction of an activist who attempted to organize a vigil in Tiananmen Square last year has been overturned by Hong Kong’s highest court because police misconduct was discovered.
Attorney Chow Hang-tung, who was imprisoned in January, will continue to be held in detention as she is charged with two further offenses under the city’s national security statute.
But on Wednesday, she was successful in appealing her “unauthorized assembly” verdict.
The police’s decision to forbid the vigil was found invalid by a judge.
Since 2020, Tiananmen vigils have been prohibited by Hong Kong authorities, who have cited COVID regulations as the cause.
In the past, the city was one of the few locations on Chinese soil where tributes were permitted by the government.
Ms. Chow was detained in June 2021 for “inciting” members of the public to participate in the vigil that year. In that year, she published articles on social media and news websites urging Hong Kongers to turn out or light a candle in remembrance. She had led the Hong Kong Alliance, a group that had organized the yearly demonstrations.
She was sentenced to prison for promoting the assembly in violation of Covid restrictions at her trial in January of this year.
Amy Chan, the magistrate, criticized her for acting “self-righteous” and “totally disrespecting the law” by putting the right to free assembly over the welfare of the public.
However, a High Court judge decided on Wednesday that police had not thoroughly investigated the possibilities for how the demonstration might have continued while remaining Covid-safe.
Police, according to Judge Judianna Barnes, “did not carefully explore” alternative health precautions, violating the law’s mandate that public gatherings should not be prohibited if they can be safely facilitated.
Other Hong Kongers imprisoned for taking part in the Tiananmen vigils may face legal repercussions as a result of the decision. One of them is the pro-democracy businessman Jimmy Lai, who received a 13-month term for the alleged offense last year. Earlier this month, Mr. Lai was sentenced to almost six years in prison on fraud-related charges. A separate trial on charges related to national security is scheduled to start in September, and if found guilty, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Ms. Chow and other human rights activists have long contended that the Covid limitations are nothing more than a pretext used by Hong Kong authorities to prohibit commemorations of the Tiananmen protests, a severely suppressed and extremely sensitive subject in mainland China.
Thousands of people gathered in past years to pay tribute to those who perished in the crackdown on June 4, 1989, when the Chinese military stormed pro-democracy protestors camped in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, killing an undetermined number of civilians.
However, since significant protests in 2019 against Beijing’s hegemony and the repression of civil rights in the city, China has consolidated its control over Hong Kong.
Since then, the government has taken a dim view of public commemorations of the Tiananmen protests. Last year, memorials honoring the occasion were taken down from college campuses, and a museum was closed as well.