Hong Kong pro-democracy activist convicted over protest slogans

HONG KONG — A Hong Kong activist was convicted Wednesday on a string of charges linked to pro-democracy street protests two years ago, in a ruling that critics say deals another blow to the city’s rapidly declining freedom of expression.

Hong Kong’s district court found Tam Tak-chi, 49, guilty of uttering “seditious words,” including now-outlawed protest chants, as well as holding unauthorized assembly and disobeying police orders during demonstrations in 2020 against a Beijing-imposed national security law.

Presiding Judge Stanley Chan ruled that Tam’s criticism of the Chinese government amounted to an attack on Hong Kong authorities, while he also agreed with a previous court decision that found the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” was a call for independence from Beijing.

Tam, who is set to be sentenced on March 31, was convicted on 11 of 14 charges, including seven sedition-related allegations.

The prosecution argued that Tam’s use of anti-police slogans amounted to spreading “hatred or contempt against the government” and could be read as a call for others to join an insurrection, a claim backed by Lingnan University historian Lau Chi-pang who was called as an expert witness.

Tam, a former radio host who has been held in custody for 541 days since his 2020 arrest, is the highest-profile activist charged under colonial-era sedition laws, which carry jail terms of up to two years for a first conviction.

Hong Kong’s sedition laws were last used during the 1960s when the territory was under British control. But authorities have revived their use in an ever-expanding definition of activity banned alongside the city’s separate security law, which gives police sweeping surveillance powers and effectively outlawed protests or criticism of the government.

Hong Kong’s top court earlier ruled that sedition endangered national security and charges under those laws would be held to the same standard as the national security legislation.

A source told Nikkei Asia that prominent human rights lawyer Paul Harris, who represents activists and politicians facing security law charges, was under police investigation. Local media reported that he was spotted at the airport Wednesday, possibly leaving the city.

More than 20 people, ranging from journalists to speech therapists, are awaiting trial on sedition charges, while several independent media outlets have closed over what they said were declining press freedoms.

Pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily shut last year after its offices were raided and senior management, including founder Jimmy Lai, were arrested under the security legislation. They also face sedition charges.

“If Hong Kong people become increasingly unable to speak their minds, criticize the government and hold it accountable, then the city will lose some of the advantages that had set it apart from others in the region as a global financial hub,” said Maya Wang, senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch.

The charges against Tam, former vice chairman of the pro-democracy People Power party, were laid several months after Hong Kong unveiled its controversial security legislation. He is also facing a separate subversion charge linked to his participation in an unofficial primary.

Last month, singer and activist Tommy Yuen was charged for posting allegedly seditious messages on social media, which prosecutors said promoted hatred and contempt toward the government.

No details have been revealed about the content of Yuen’s posts. He was denied bail by a magistrate who said it was not certain the singer would refrain from committing more acts that could endanger Hong Kong’s security.

In January, property manager Kim Chiang-chung-sang was handed an eight-month jail term after pleading guilty to possessing and displaying seditious material. The charges were linked to Kim putting up posters that criticized the judges who oversaw Hong Kong’s first national security case, as well as digital images that described city leader Carrie Lam as a “wicked woman.”

In a separate case, a 46-year-old woman and 17-year-old high school student were each sentenced to 13 and a half months in detention after they also pleaded guilty to distributing “seditious material,” which read “Hong Kongers build an army, build a country.”

Source: https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Hong-Kong-security-law/Hong-Kong-pro-democracy-activist-convicted-over-protest-slogans