Hong Kong rights lawyer invokes Tiananmen 'tank man' at trial

Hong Kong (AFP) – A Hong Kong lawyer said at her trial Monday that she was inspired by China's "tank man" to challenge the authorities and encourage people to mark the anniversary of Beijing's deadly Tiananmen Square crackdown.


Chow Hang-tung, 36, was charged with "inciting others to knowingly join an unauthorised assembly" over her social media posts calling on Hong Kongers to mark the June 4 anniversary this year after it was banned.

She has pleaded not guilty, and gave an impassioned defence on Monday in which she invoked "tank man" -- the lone protester famously seen blocking a column of tanks during the Tiananmen crackdown.

Chow, a barrister who is representing herself at trial, said she understood the risk of personally defying the police ban and the fact that it was unlikely many would follow her call.

"But even when I was the only one left, I would go for it," she said.

"Just like the 'tank man' in 1989 -- he did not go and try to stop the long row of tanks because he saw millions of people following him. He must do that even when he was on his own because it was the right thing to do."

The images and footage of "tank man" -- whose identity and fate remain unknown -- became a defining symbol of individual defiance against an authoritarian state.

'Flowers blossoming across the territory'

Chow was a former vice chairwoman of the now-disbanded Hong Kong Alliance, the group that until recently organised huge candlelight vigils in Hong Kong every June 4.

For decades, Hong Kong was the one place in China where such mass commemoration was still permitted. It has been banned the last two years with authorities citing both the coronavirus pandemic and their ongoing crackdown on dissent.

During this year's anniversary, police sealed off the park where the vigil usually takes place as hundreds of Hong Kongers in nearby streets flashed mobile phone lights instead.

The Hong Kong Alliance has since been declared subversive. Its museum was raided, and much of its leadership was arrested under a national security law Beijing imposed last year.

The prosecution has alleged that Chow called on others to join the banned vigil through two articles she wrote on her Facebook page, and in local Chinese newspaper Ming Pao.

In those articles, Chow asked Hong Kong people to light a candle on June 4 wherever they felt safe, "like flowers blossoming across the territory".

She also vowed to go to the park on her own but was arrested the day of the anniversary.

Chow has also been charged with inciting subversion, a national security crime that carries up to ten years in prison and is the subject of a separate prosecution.