Olivia Cheng and Siaw Hew Wah | China Change
On June 1, 2, and 3, 2021, Stand News published a three-part feature of the ‘Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China’ (which China Change recently translated and posted in six installments). On September 24, 2021, the day before the Hong Kong Alliance voted to disband itself, Stand News published a follow-up piece providing a timely update on the situation the Alliance found itself in and the issue of the historical narrative surrounding June 4th and the 1989 democracy movement.
Below is a full translation of Stand News’ last piece, also China Change’s 7th and last installment in the series. Following the fate of the Hong Kong Alliance, in December 2021, Stand News was dissolved as well. Two senior editors from the independent outlet will be tried in October 2022 on sedition charges. China Change is proud to have completed the translation — it’s our small tribute to the Alliance, to Stand News, to the people of Hong Kong, and to the memory of 1989 democracy movement.
We recommend that you go through and follow Hong Kong Free Press’ month-by-month round-ups of national security law developments in Hong Kong, not just to stay abreast of the latest developments, but also to witness the methodical, all-encompassing moves of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) makes to bring Hong Kong under in its clutches.
These actions target every sector of the society, not just protesters of all ages: influential pro-democracy figures, civil society leaders, trade unions, student unions, press, universities, arts, lawyers, judges, businesses, elections, teachers, authors, libraries, school curriculums, civil servants… In short, the CCP has been carrying out a total blood transfusion in Hong Kong, and it will be a continuous process as the CCP is determined to bring the Hongkongers, a freedom-loving people, to its knees, and all tyrants know that tyranny requires constant maintenance and reinforcement through two tools: violence and lies.
If you haven’t experienced how the Communist Party “transformed” the old China in the 1950s after it took over power on the mainland — and chances are you haven’t — you will see an updated, 21st-century version of that transformation playbook in action by watching how the Party is dismantling Hong Kong’s political freedoms and civil society right before our eyes. From there, we hope you will be stirred enough to contemplate what this second takeover (the first being the 1997 handover) means for the people of Hong Kong and for the rest of the world, and what the international community’s response should be, as opposed to what it has been: weak, contradictory, and largely rhetorical two years into what many Hongkongers refer to as the “white terror.”
As a veteran member of the Alliance said before Szeto Wah’s plaque in the cemetery, “Uncle Wah, Hong Kong has fallen.”
– China Change Editors
On September 10, 2021, a clerk in Courtroom no. 2 of the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court read out the charges against jailed democracy activist and Hong Kong Alliance standing committee member Chow Hang-tung (鄒幸彤), to which she responded defiantly: “I see that these accusations are ludicrous.” The spectators applauded at her words.
The target of this case was the Alliance, which has been firmly rooted in the Hong Kong activist scene for 32 years. Under the National Security Law imposed in June 2020, Alliance chair Lee Cheuk-yan (李卓人) and vice chairs Albert Ho (何俊仁) and Chow Hang-tung (鄒幸彤) were charged with “inciting subversion of state power” — the first time such charges appeared in Hong Kong’s courts.
On May 21, 1989, answering the call put out by the then-newly formed Alliance, over a million Hongkongers marched in support of the students in Beijing calling for democracy. On the same day, the Alliance as an organization was born. At the time, a Wen Wei Po (《文匯報》) editorial called the day “an important milestone marking Hongkongers’ awakening.” Following the Tiananmen Square massacre, a statement condemning the act of killing, signed by entities across the entire spectrum of social classes and political groups, was published in newspapers. For over three decades, the Alliance has followed its own prerogative in supporting democracy under the auspices of China’s “one country, two systems” agreement for Hong Kong: the Alliance has organized the annual June 4th candlelight vigils, and demanded that those responsible for the massacre be held accountable, and carried on the truth about the 1989 movement from one year to the next.
Today, the group faces an imminent turn for the worse. [The Alliance was disbanded the day after the publication of this article on Sept. 25, 2021. – China Change editors] Its members will face trials, its office has been raided and sealed, and its assets froze, while the authorities demanded that its social media handles be deleted. The operation of the website “June 4th Memories • Human Rights Museum” has been transferred to an independent third-party team.
Whenever confronted with challenges over the last 32 years, the Alliance resorted to the emergency planning laid out in the early years of the organization’s existence: In 1996, anticipating that the Alliance would become the first target of crackdown and persecution after the 1997 handover, the late chairman Szeto Wah (司徒華) drafted 10 contingencies in response to the possibility of the Alliance being deregistered as a government-recognized group and of its members being arrested. The contingencies were listed in that year’s June 4th vigil statement. One of them reads:
“What to do if the Alliance is designated as a ‘subversive organization’? …… We will never accept such a designation, nor will Hongkongers. …… If bad laws are enacted after 1997 and the Alliance is unjustly charged, then the Alliance will merely be the first to fall, followed by similar charges against other organizations and people. It will mark a dark age befalling human rights and liberty in Hong Kong. ……”
“The storm Uncle Wah anticipated finally arrived, just 20 years later,” said former Standing Committee member Bull Tsang Kin-shing (曾健成), or simply Bull.
As of now, all of the current Standing Committee members have been incarcerated. The company could face deregistration on any given day; groups’ representatives will vote on whether the Alliance should be dissolved on September 25. Recently, chair Lee Cheuk-yan and vice-chair Albert Ho, both imprisoned, issued a joint open letter saying it’s best for the Alliance to disband voluntarily. But it was met with dissent from the other vice-chair Chow Hang-tung who sent a letter to group members. “I trust the experience and judgment of the two, but I still can’t convince myself that voluntary dissolution is a ‘good’ choice, let alone ‘the best choice.”
We will learn very soon whether the Alliance will voluntarily disband, but the key question that will haunt us is this: If the 32-year-old Alliance comes to an end, does that mean a war on the memory of June 4th is only just beginning?
Rejecting snitching, refusing to be silenced
On Sept. 5 , the Alliance held a press conference before a throng of reporters in front of the June 4th Museum, protesting the National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police Force abusing its power by demanding that the Alliance surrender its financial, meeting, and activity records over the last eight years.
According to Article 43(5) of the National Security Law for Hong Kong, the police may require an organization that’s regarded as “a foreign agent” to provide information about its activities in Hong Kong.
“The Alliance strongly denies that it is a foreign agent,” Chow Hang-tung said resolutely. “If we are an agent, we are an agent of the Hong Konger people’s conscience, not any foreign interest. ……Those in power want to stoke fear in the network of civil society, but let me make it clear that the intimidation stops with the Alliance, and we will not help you spread fear.”
On Sept. 7, the deadline for submitting the required information to the police, four standing committee members including Chow Hang-tung, Tsui Hon-kwong (徐漢光), Tang Ngok-kwan (鄧岳君), and Leung Kam-wai (梁錦威) went to the National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police to submit the Alliance’s response: they would decline to provide any information given its rejection of the “foreign agent” label.
The next morning, the four and another Standing Committee member Chan To-wai (陳多偉) were arrested, all charged with “failure to provide information as required by [police] notification.”
Veteran Alliance volunteer Ah Bang (阿邦, pseudonym) told Stand News: “They have long anticipated arrest but still refused to provide data. They are sending everyone a positive message, that is, the Alliance will hold the line and refuse to snitch, because whether or not the sought-after information is incriminating, whether or not the police can obtain the data through other means, the act of providing it to the police itself will deal a blow to the solidarity and trust within civil society.”
Over the past few months, civil society in Hong Kong has been decimated. Some suddenly disbanded, others are under investigation, and facing mounting pressure many chose to stay silent. The standing committee members of the Alliance are among the few who continue to speak out. “These standing committee members stand firm when the civil society in Hong Kong is tumbling down like an avalanche,” Ah Bang continued. “Though I’ve worked with them for years, I’ve just found out about their family difficulties — Tang Ngok-kwan, for example, has a 108-year-old grandma. Having put themselves out in the front, they brought some time for other organizations to prepare their own responses.”
Just two days before his arrest, Stand News asked for an interview with the longest-serving Alliance standing committee member, 72-year-old Tsui Hon-kwong. He replied, “My arrest is imminent, act quickly if you want to interview me. I do have something to say.” He spoke to us on the same day as though leaving his “last words.” He felt deeply insulted that the Alliance was accused of being a “foreign agent.”
“The full name of the Alliance is ‘Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China,’ meaning that it stated its patriotic nature on the first day, and twice in the coming years, it used ‘love the country and love the people (愛國愛民) as part of the theme for June 4th vigil. Today they accuse us of selling out the country. Have I been blind for all these years?”
Tsui, a retired teacher, explained the patriotic nature of the Alliance. “The Five Guidelines are a succession of steps leading to a democratic China and they serve Chinese national interests. At the Alliance, I’ve worked on bringing people together as a teacher would do, opening people up to different opinions so that they can think independently and judge for themselves, not blindly follow or accept answers imposed on them.”
He seemed nonchalant about the imminent possibility of arrest. “When I was young living in Singapore, I once escaped police pursuit. Now I’m 72 years old and have seen everything. Today people are shocked that [mainland] rights defenders are forced to make TV confessions, but the same thing was a common occurrence under Lee Kuan Yew’s rule.” When studying in Singapore in his youth, Tsui participated in local social movements and once painted his face black to escape a police manhunt. He has served on the Alliance’s standing committee ever since its second election.
“In Tiananmen Square they killed people. Now it’s only six months in jail for refusing to provide the information they requested. Some people may think we will be charged with more severe crimes later on, but we must carry on. If one by one all of us are thrown into jail, we will sing a song in Stanley Prison (赤柱監獄). What will we sing? Flowers of Freedom, of course!”
With all Standing Committee members behind bars, the Alliance is leaderless
In the 48 hours following the arrest of five standing committee members on September 8 and 9, former committee member Lo Wai Ming (盧偉明) was busy contacting family members. “We have yet to know whether they will be indicted. If they are released, the families will go and take them home; otherwise, they will have to prepare for things to bring during visitation. They haven’t had the experience visiting detention facilities and don’t know the details and procedures.”
On September 9, on his way to attend the court hearing of “the June 4th (2020) unauthorized assembly” case, former committee member and secretary Richard Tsoi (蔡耀昌) learned that the police had raided the June 4th Museum to collect evidence. He hurried to the site and found that the security camera outside the Museum was dismantled and the lock on the front metal shutters had its combination changed to prevent anyone from entering the museum. Early in the evening that day, he got news that the museum’s warehouse in Kwai Chung (葵涌) was raided too. He rushed there too and found the lock had also been tampered with.
“From the photos in the news reports, I believe the police have taken most of the things,” Tsoi said with a heavy heart.
The police took standing committee members Leung Kam-wai and Tang Ngok-kwan, both in handcuffs, on their raids. Tsoi initially thought the raids were about “the case of refusing to submit information,” but learned later that they were part of the police’s investigation of “inciting subversion of state power.”
“According to media reports,” said Tsoi, “the police had search warrants, and the two committee members they took with them to the searches were there not because they were suspects, but because they were persons in charge of the Alliance.”
Lo Wai Ming said, “Normally there should be lawyers present when the police search the premises, but there was no lawyers present and there was nothing we could do about it.”
The police left a note outside the June 4th Museum saying “Please contact the Mong Kok police bureau,” he said.
“But when he and the Alliance people called the number, no one picked up to answer their inquiries. “How can they do this?”
Why didn’t the police notify others in charge of the Alliance that they were going to search these premises? “Who do they notify?” said Richard Tsoi. “All of the standing committee members are in jail.”
On the same evening, the Department of Justice (律政司) formally charged chairman Lee Cheuk-yan and vice chairs Albert Ho and Chow Hang-tung, as well as the Alliance, with “inciting subversion of state power”; standing committee members Chow Hang-tung, Leung Kam-wai, Tsui Hon-kwong, Tang Ngok-kwan, and Chan To-wai were also charged with “failure to provide information as required by [police] notification.”
Though the Alliance is unwilling to dissolve, the bar to perseverance is high
At the end of 2020, given the political risk under the NSL, the Alliance reduced the size of its standing committee from 20 members to 14 in the election of the new committee. As the Hong Kong authorities stepped up their political crackdown, by July 10 this year , seven standing committee members — Richard Tsoi (蔡耀昌), Mak Hoi-wah (麥海華), Lo Wai Ming (盧偉明), Wong Chi-keung (黃志強), Lun Chi Wai (倫智偉), Leung Kwok-wah (梁國華) and Chiu Yan-loy (趙恩來) — resigned, further reducing the size of the standing committee to seven members.
“By reducing the size [of the Committee], we are hoping to reduce the scope of the destruction. We also want to follow suit of what the Charter 77 members did in Czechoslovakia — when one spokesperson was arrested, another one would fill in,” said Lo Wai Ming.
For much of September , the Alliance has been hit by one incident after another. On September 10, the chief of the Security Bureau (保安局) suggested that the Alliance be taken off the companies registry; per police order, on September 16, the Alliance deleted its website as well as Facebook, YouTube and other social media accounts that contain a vast amount of information about 1989 democracy movement.
The next day, vice-chair Albert Ho announced from prison his resignation from his position and from the Alliance. The only remaining standing committee members — chairman Lee Cheuk-yan (李卓人), vice-chair Chow Hang-tung (鄒幸彤), standing committee members Tsui Hon-kwong (徐漢光), Tang Ngok-kwan (鄧岳君), Chan To-wai (陳多偉), and Leung Kam-wai (梁錦威) — are all in custody. During a press conference on Sept. 5, the Alliance announced that it would hold a special plenary meeting of the member groups to vote on a special motion on the matter of whether to “voluntarily dissolve” the Alliance.
Volunteer Ah Bang said that the special plenary meeting was originally scheduled to be held in the June 4th Museum, but since the museum had been sealed off by the police, for the time being, the standing committee members in custody should vote on another location for the meeting. By September 21, the seal on the museum was however lifted and the meeting should be held at the scheduled venue. As for the Security Bureau chief’s suggestion that the Alliance is deregistered, the six remaining standing committee members also need to vote on a written response due before September 24. “Since they can’t get together, they have to discuss the matter with each other through lawyers.”
Ah Bang continued that before June 4, there had already been “go-betweens” contacting some standing committee members, saying that many people would be implicated and arrested if the Alliance didn’t disband by a certain “deadline.” “There have been so many relayed messages and terrible rumors — ‘it’s either by July 1 or no later than October 1’ being the most widespread one.’”
Richard Tsoi said he would vote to disband the Alliance during the plenary meeting, as he believes that the current circumstances are worse than he expected they would get. “Many things we’ve built up over the last ten years, twenty years, have been lost.” He also acknowledged that he had received messages relayed by “go-betweens” but he thinks the issue has to do with the overall political conditions.
There are others who believe the Alliance should persist no matter what. Ah Bang is one of them and said he would vote to keep the organization. “If we submit to the regime’s timetable to dissolve, we will owe a debt to those who have put in a lot of sweat and tears for this struggle. Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho, and Chow Hang-tung, all charged with ‘inciting subversion,’ know they are the targets, but they are using their limited freedom to bulwark the dignity and conscience of the civil society.” Ah Bang said he has always regarded Lee Cheuk-yan as a role model, and that the Alliance has to shoulder its responsibility to Hong Kong society.
“That year on the plane, he was the first one to stand up, and he has never changed since,” Ah Bang was referring to an incident on a flight about taking off from Beijing to Hong Kong on June 5, 1989, when Beijing public security officers entered the cabin asking for two Hongkongers “whose papers were not in order.” Lee Cheuk-yan stood up and announced, “I’m the one in charge on this plane.” The Beijing police checked his documents and took him away.
In his interview before his arrest and detention, Tsui Hon-kwong said he browsed a report in Wen Wei Po (《文匯報》) about Chow Hang-tung, Tang Ngok-kwan, and himself, which he found both infuriating and laughable:
“They secretly filmed us and made up a story saying that Chow opposed dissolution, I supported it, that we argued non-stop, and that Chow stormed away in fury. How ridiculous!”
The reality is, he agrees with what Chow said during the press conference: The Alliance now faces a dilemma. On the one hand, as civil society in Hong Kong has come under attack with a lot of groups dissolved [Timeline: 58 Hong Kong civil society groups disband following the onset of the security law –HKFP], if the Alliance also dissolves, new forces can be preserved; but on the other, the Alliance does not want to be swung by the wind, because “if we let civil society dissipate, we will lose even more space. Having learned from the late Szeto Wah, who had repeatedly refused to disband the organization, I feel like we need to uphold civil society’s right to exist.”
Tsui said there had been friends who came to persuade him claiming to have brought information from the Chinese side: “It’s a difficult choice to disband the Alliance, but it’s the best choice to do so, and put aside the principles you’ve upheld for the time being.”
To this argument, Tsui retorted, “How do you put aside the principles you’ve upheld for 32 years? Besides, political persecution doesn’t stop at the dissolution of the Alliance; rather, it’s a political need that ebbs and flows like the market price of seafood; they need to fabricate the image of a Hong Kong where nobody is emigrating, where everyone supports the regime, elections are perfect, the economy is more prosperous, and that a new era has come. It’s all a lie.”
On Sept. 20, before the plenary meeting, chair Lee Cheuk-yan and vice-chair Albert Ho, both in detention and charged with “inciting subversion,” made a joint public statement, calling upon representatives of member groups to vote in favor of disbanding the Alliance. “Given the current social circumstances, we believe that it’s best for the Alliance to voluntarily disband,” they wrote.
In her follow-up open letter, however, Chow Hang-tung took the opposite stance: “I choose not to give in, not to give up, but hold the line till the end. Even though I am facing four charges with regard to the Alliance and the June 4th gatherings and possibly long jail terms, what I value more is how these political trials will impact the movement, as well as the organizational dimension of it, whether Hongkongers’ organized struggles in the past will be weakened and reduced to sporadic resistance by individuals. This will have a profound effect on not only people who choose to stay in Hong Kong to fight, but also the future of Hong Kong’s civil society….”
Tomorrow, September 25 , we’ll have the answer. Meanwhile, the fact remains that, in the first year of its founding, the Alliance was already designated by the Chinese government as a “subversive organization” and the pressure of dissolution or outlaw has followed it for all these years.
Szeto Wah once said, after the first June 4th anniversary, per Governor David Clive Wilson’s request, then Senior Member of the legislature Allen Lee Peng-fei (李鵬飛) met with Szeto demanding him to shut down the Alliance so as to avoid inconvenience for the China-U.K. relationship.
In the 1997 episode of The Common Sense (鏗鏘集, now known in English as the Hong Kong Connection), “Hand in Hand,” Szeto recalled, “Lee Peng-fei met with me asking me to disband the Alliance. The first thing he said was, ‘a lot of people made the wrong bet at the time.’ I answered him, ‘I never gamble. If I must make a bet, I’ll bet with my own life.’ Lin Zexu’s (林則徐) poem speaks my mind too, ‘For the good of the country, I’ll willingly lay down my life, I shirk not this fate even should the greatest misfortune be visited upon me.’ As long as it’s good for the country, I’ll do it with no regard to my life or death.”
Bull Tsang Kin-shing: ‘Uncle Wah, Hong Kong has fallen’
One afternoon, alone by himself, Bull visited Cape Collinson Garden of Remembrance to see Szeto Wah’s plague. He found a broom in the cemetery, wrapped the tip with a paper towel, and reached it high to wipe his picture. Then he stood in front of it for a long while and bowed.
“If Uncle Wah is still alive, he wouldn’t disband the Alliance. He would persist and go to jail for it,” said Bull. He believes that whether the Alliance will carry on or not depends on whether the organizers are willing to shoulder the burden or not. “Many people don’t have the guts to persist, but now you see that Chow Hang-tung has been holding firm.”
“I told Uncle Wah that the sky over Hong Kong has changed, the Alliance is under fierce attack, and many core members have left. But as his old partner, I will stay with the Alliance for as long as I can. I may have to pay a price for doing so, because now we’ve come to a point where ‘those who obey me live, those who oppose me die’ (順我者生，逆我者亡). I implored him to bless Hong Kong and bless the Alliance.”
Bull Tsang Kin-shing was a standing committee member for over a decade before he withdrew. In April this year , when he heard that groups were withdrawing from the Alliance, he and members of the League of Social Democrats (社民連) passed a motion to join the Alliance, while his councilor’s office and his organization the Democracy Forum (民主台) have always remained in the Alliance.
Tsang said he will attend the special plenary meeting on Sept. 25 , and his position on whether the Alliance should disband or continue has shifted. He initially supported its continuation, believing that the organization hadn’t broken any law, nor colluded with foreign forces. “‘End one party dictatorship’ is just a slogan,” he said, and “the League of Social Democrats has the same slogan.” But when five standing committee members were charged with the crime of “failure to provide information as required by [police] notification,” he decided to support disbandment. “They are facing long-term imprisonment, and I don’t want them to bear an extra burden.”
He will continue to commemorate June 4th, he said, if the Alliance is disbanded or outlawed. “We will do it within the space the law permits. We might have to go back to how assemblies were held in 1988 when the maximum number of people for marches was 29 and 49 for assemblies without having to apply for a Letter of No Objection. All in all, we have to be careful so as not to step over the line, or the charges could be severe.”
On this past June 4th, he said, people were already treading carefully. As the police blocked off Victoria Park, his grassroots radio station decided to set up a stall at Jardine’s Crescent, Causeway Bay (銅鑼灣渣甸坊). “I had two light signs, one said ‘Release Political Prisoners’ and the other ‘Civil Disobedience.’ We also distributed candles and played June 4th songs.” Without incident, the stall stayed open until 8 p.m. when he turned off the light signs and loudspeakers and stood holding a candle for a minute of silence.
“There were about a few hundred people at Jardine’s Crescent, everyone turned on their cell phone flashlight in the place of a candle, and spontaneously stood in silence for one minute.”
A debate beyond court proceedings
On the day she learned that she was charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” Chow Hang-tung in custody sent out a message through her lawyer: “When I heard the words ‘inciting subversion’ I felt a sense of relief. If this is what I’m charged with, instead of scuffling about with charges like ‘foreign agent,’ let’s have an open and honest debate. Should those who massacred protesters [in 1989] be held accountable or not? Should the one-party rule be ended or not? Let’s have debates on these genuine demands by the people and see who has the truth on their side.”
Chow was arraigned on September 9,  and her bail was reviewed on September 15. Principal Magistrate Law Tak Chuen (Peter Law, 羅德泉) rejected Chow’s application to lift the restriction on media reports of bail proceedings set forth by Article 9P of the Criminal Procedure Ordinance. As a result, the news coverage of the case provided no details about the basis of the prosecutor’s charges and the defense’s argument for bail.
At this stage, is a truly “open and honest debate” even possible?
“It’s hard to say,” said Eric Yan-ho Lai (黎恩灝), a Hong Kong Law Fellow of the Georgetown Center for Asian Law. If the court, the Hong Kong SAR government, or the Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (國安公署) decides to try the Alliance cases in secret or take them to mainland according to the NSL, then there may not be a debate.
Article 55 of the NSL stipulates that the PRC government’s Office for Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong SAR could exercise jurisdiction of a case under certain circumstances that would be prosecuted by the relevant prosecutorial office designated by PRC Supreme People’s Procuratorate. These cases would be tried by a court designated by the PRC Supreme People’s Court, and all proceedings will be handled in accordance with PRC’s Criminal Procedure Law.
Or, will the Alliance cases be tried without jury, as in the case of Tang Ying-kit (唐英傑)? [Hong Kong Free Press: Activist Tong Ying-kit jailed for 9 years in Hong Kong’s first national security case] It’s a possibility, for the NSL provides these options, but they have to calculate the political and judicial price if they make these choices.
However, Lai believes that the “debate” Chow Hang-tung spoke of is a discussion that goes beyond the court proceedings in and of themselves.
Eric Lai wrote in his last op-ed for Ming Pao (《明報》) on September 14, “Farewell to the Alliance–A rebuttal to Chow Wing-sun (周永新)”:
“It requires everyone, inside the government and outside, to be true to themselves and ask themselves how they will answer the above question: Are you willing to explain your choice — right or wrong — and give your reasons honestly? Or do you use moral relativism to degrade core values as an opportunistic way of submitting to the logic of those in power?”
In other words, the judge in this debate is the human conscience and the historical record.
Lai believes that, as the regime puts the Alliance on the stand using the NSL, its true intent is to rewrite the June 4th history.
“From its founding in 1989, the Alliance was already designated as a subversive organization. But in the past, the regime recoiled from cracking down on the Alliance, fearing an enormous backlash from Hongkongers who had carried on the tradition of commemorating the June 4th massacre as well as the public’s confidence in one country, two systems. But with the imposition of the NSL, social movements faded, civil groups, dissolved, and public opinion and morale is unlikely to be rekindled to the level of 2019 or before, so the regime is more confident than ever to wipe you out once and for all.”
He believes that the Alliance is not just any organization; it carries a symbolic weight with its guarantee that Hongkongers shall always remember the June 4th massacre and the 1989 democracy movement; the unique role it has had in enlightening Hongkongers to fight for democracy cannot be dismissed.
Now, as this symbol is “wiped out,” does that mean Hongkongers will forget June 4th?
“That won’t be possible either. But as this symbol, that is, the Alliance, disappears, the regime will create new symbols to interpret the [democracy] movement when it wants to rewrite history; it will shut down certain content related to the movement, such as the slogan ‘end one-party dictatorship’ by using the NSL to deter free speech. As a result, Hongkongers will avoid this slogan for fear of being charged with criminal speech; next, they will dread the other four slogans of the Alliance, fearing that repeating those lines too will be criminalized.”
He says such manipulation will gradually cause a shift in the public perception of June 4th. “As a matter of fact, such change occurred among us in the past, though not in favor of the regime. For example, the localist debate caused more discontent toward the mainland government. Now as the authorities take the Alliance to court, the court will use many legal techniques to change some people’s understanding of the 1989 democracy movement, the June 4th massacre, and the commemorations; it could even define commemorating June 4th as defamation of the Chinese government and sabotage of China’s constitutional system.”
Civil society, Eric Lai says, is not just about the mere survival of or notional existence of organizations; it’s the fabric that connects citizens and the venues through which citizens participate in public affairs. Whether or not the history of June 4th can be rewritten depends, to a great extent, on the trials of the Alliance: how the defense is mounted in the court, whether the hearings are open to the public, and how the public absorbs this process. All of these are important variables concerning the future of civil society.
“In the recent past, the defendants in the ‘Umbrella nine’ case and the August 18 succession assembly case made arguments that won public support not only for the defendants but also for the resistance and made a great impact on reaffirming the values [of the movement]. For example, Benny Tai (戴耀廷) and Pastor Chu Yiu-ming (朱耀明牧師) made passionate and gripping self-defense speeches. So there is no absolute answer to whether the public will be silenced.”
On September 24, Chow Hang-tung mailed from prison a hand-written personal reply to the Security Bureau chief’s recommendation that the Alliance be removed from the registry list of companies, and made special mention of the 56-page appendix from the National Security Department’s recommendation.
This document included accusations against the Alliance and the 1989 democracy movement. For example, it claims that the “Tiananmen incident” was a counter-revolutionary riot aimed at overthrowing the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and subverting the socialist People’s Republic of China; that the Alliance’s June 4th vigils as well as its three guidelines — “release democracy activists,” “redress the 1989 democracy movement,” and “hold those responsible for massacre accountable” — legitimized and glorified the “Tiananmen incident”; and that the two other guidelines — “end one-party dictatorship” and “build a democratic China” — endanger China’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence because they challenge the rule of the CCP and demand a political system, not in line with the PRC constitution.
The Alliance has yet to disband, but the fight over the June 4th narrative has already begun.
In her letter, Chow Hang-tung refuted the authorities’ accusations, writing conclusively:
“The Alliance has existed in Hong Kong for 32 years and upheld the Five Guidelines in the interest of justice and democracy. In doing so, the Alliance has earned the respect and support of countless people in Hong Kong and throughout the rest of China. For the government to identify it as an illegal organization and outlaw it is to delegitimize and defame the acts of participation by over a million Hongkongers over the past 32 years. It is tantamount to being the enemy of the people.”
Regarding the future of the Alliance, veteran volunteer Ah Bang had this to say: “It appears the Alliance has reached its final hour. From now on, I hope everyone will continue to guard the truth of June 4th.”