Chow Hang-tung, vice chairperson of the Hong Kong Alliance in...

Chow Hang-tung, vice chairperson of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, speaks during a news conference in Hong Kong on Sept. 5, 2021. Three former organizers, including Chow, of Hong Kong’s annual vigil in remembrance of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy protests lost their bid to overturn their conviction Thursday, March 14, 2024, over their refusal to provide authorities with information on the group under a national security law. Credit: AP/Kin Cheung

HONG KONG — Three former organizers of Hong Kong’s annual vigil in remembrance of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy protests lost their bid to overturn their conviction Thursday over their refusal to provide authorities with information on the group under a national security law.

Chow Hang-tung, Tang Ngok-kwan and Tsui Hon-kwong were core members of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China before it disbanded under the shadow of the Beijing-imposed law in 2021. They received a sentence of 4 1/2 months last year — widely seen as part of a crackdown on dissidents following massive pro-democracy protests in 2019.

The alliance was long known for organizing candlelight vigils in the city on the anniversary of the Chinese military’s crushing of the 1989 protests in Beijing. Critics said its shutdown reflected that civil liberties were shrinking despite promises they would be kept intact when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Before the group dissolved, police had sought details about its operations and finances in connection with alleged links to pro-democracy groups overseas. Police accused the group of being a foreign agent. But the group refused to cooperate, arguing police were arbitrarily labelling pro-democracy organizations as foreign agents.

Judge Anna Lai at the Court of First Instance dismissed their appeal Thursday, saying she was satisfied that there was ample evidence to support the convictions.

Last December, their lawyer argued in an appeal hearing that the activists were denied a fair trial because they had not been shown the full evidence that suggested the group was a foreign agent.

During previous legal proceedings at the lower court, some crucial details, including the names of groups that were alleged to have links with the alliance, were redacted. The court ordered a partial redaction of some information after prosecutors argued that a full disclosure would jeopardize an ongoing probe into national security cases.

After reading the unredacted materials, Lai said the omission was done properly. “Their non-disclosure would not have caused any unfairness to the appellants,” she wrote in her ruling.

She added the prosecution was not required to prove that the alliance was a foreign agent in this case.

Under the security law’s implementation rules, the police chief can request a range of information from a foreign agent.

Chow and two other former alliance leaders, Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho, were charged with subversion in a separate case under the sweeping law in 2021. It was still unclear when their trial would begin.

The annual vigil organized by the alliance at Hong Kong's Victoria Park was the only large-scale public commemoration of the June 4 crackdown on Chinese soil for decades. It was attended by thousands each year until authorities banned it in 2020, citing anti-pandemic measures.

After the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions last year, the park was occupied instead by a carnival organized by pro-Beijing groups to celebrate Hong Kong’s handover in 1997. Those who tried to commemorate the event near the site were detained. Many others marked the day in private ways under the chilling effect brought by the tough law.

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This story has been correct that the ruling was made by the Court of First Instance, not the Court of Appeal.

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