Hong Kong student jailed on allegations of inciting secession on social media

Brian Wong, South China Morning Post

Posted at Apr 30 2022 09:23 PM

Pro-democracy lawmaker Roy Kwong Agence France-Presse
Pro-democracy lawmaker Roy Kwong (center) chants slogans as protesters gathered outside Legislative Council in Hong Kong on January 12, 2019. Agence France-Presse

A Hong Kong university student was sentenced to five years in jail on Friday for inciting secession by advocating the city’s independence and resistance to the Chinese Communist Party on social media, the fourth sentence delivered under the imposition of the national security law.

In the District Court ruling, Judge Amanda Woodcock found engineering undergraduate Lui Sai-yu’s offence to be of a “serious nature” and warranted at least five years’ imprisonment in accordance with the new legislation, regardless of how much remission the court agreed to offer on the basis of his remorse for the crime.

The national security law imposed by Beijing in June 2020 has set out minimum sentences depending on the gravity of offences, which were previously absent in the city’s common law regime. The legislation bans acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

Woodcock initially sentenced Lui to 44 months in prison following a one-third reduction from a starting point of 5½ years. But the judge revised her sentence at prosecutors’ request after acknowledging she was bound by Article 21 of the security law and could only trim the defendant’s sentence by six months in the case of a serious incitement offence under the legislation.

The 25-year-old Polytechnic University student is the third person to be found guilty of inciting secession, and the sixth to be convicted under the national security law, although two people await sentencing. Other defendants have previously been convicted of charges including terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

Lui pleaded guilty on Wednesday in exchange for prosecutors dropping two charges stemming from possession of firearms and offensive weapons.

In September 2020, police’s national security unit raided his home in Fanling and seized a pepper ball launcher, two military knives and an extendable baton, as well as protective equipment commonly used by protesters during the social unrest in 2019.

Initial investigations had focused on Lui’s sale of weapons through social media, but officers later turned their attention to his Telegram channel containing more than 1,000 provocative messages and illustrations.

The prosecution said the defendant and another unknown user had co-administered the platform, named “Channel of Anti-Communism and Hong Kong Independence”, to make repeated calls for independence.

Police found the channel published 357 posts between June 30 and September 23 in 2020.

Among the offensive statements were expressions such as “Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times”, the signature rallying cry during the 2019 protests, as well as “Hong Kong independence, the only way out” and “Fight against totalitarianism”.

Other posts offered to sell weapons and body gear in support of “a war against the People’s Republic of China”, and also called for donations to be used “in fighting for Hong Kong independence by this channel”.

On Friday, Woodcock said Lui had targeted Beijing’s sovereignty over Hong Kong and advocated violence in many ways via an easily accessible medium.

While the judge noted an element of one-upmanship between the idealistic participants in the channel, she stressed the lack of an elaborate and concrete plan did not detract from the seriousness of the offence.

“By choosing the forum of an open Telegram channel, the defendant and the other administrator intended to reach out to as many as possible,” the judge wrote in her 14-page judgment.

She added: “This offence was committed during a time when there was social unrest and heightened anti-government sentiment. In this context and in such a social climate the offence aggravated the risks of public and social disorder.”

Lui’s lawyer, senior counsel Edwin Choy Wai-bond, urged the judge to revisit her findings on sentence because the case was “not the type of serious nature as would have been envisaged by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress”.

But the judge refused, adding “the circumstances have not changed” even after she corrected herself on the appropriate sentence.

Lui, who has been incarcerated in jail since September 2020, will be eligible for early release in 21 months’ time at the discretion of the Correctional Services Department.

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