Old sedition law finds new life in Hong Kong
Two more charged under British colonial-era legislation that serves Beijing’s new purposes
published : 29 Sep 2022 at 15:33
HONG KONG: Authorities in Hong Kong have charged two men, one of them a teenager, for posting “seditious messages” on social media and inciting violence, police said on Thursday, using a colonial-era law that critics say is a tool to quash dissent.
Beijing has imposed a sweeping political crackdown on Hong Kong after the territory saw huge and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests three years ago.
The men, aged 18 and 29, were arrested on Tuesday after publishing posts that “promote feelings of ill-will and enmity between different classes of the population of Hong Kong and incite the use of violence”, police said.
Since 2020, authorities have prosecuted activists and opposition figures using the Beijing-imposed national security law as well as sedition charges dating from an earlier era.
The latter come from a colonial-era law that had fallen into obscurity for decades until prosecutors dusted it off in the aftermath of the protests in 2019.
Hong Kong has arrested 215 people for national security offences as of mid-September and nearly 130 of them were formally charged.
Police on Thursday did not specify what content was deemed seditious in the two men’s social media posts.
Wen Wei Po, a Chinese state-affiliated newspaper, earlier reported that the posts in question included calls for separatism and for sanctions against national security police and judges.
The younger defendant also faces additional charges of insulting China’s national anthem — including via “intentionally publishing altered lyrics” — and desecrating the national flag.
Last week, Hong Kong authorities arrested a man for sedition after he played a protest anthem on his harmonica outside the British consulate during the funeral of Elizabeth II.
Sedition is punishable by up to two years in jail on first conviction.
In a related development, former Hong Kong opposition lawmaker Ted Hui was sentenced in absentia on Thursday to three-and-a-half years in jail, after a court found that he misled authorities when fleeing the city.
The veteran activist is also facing multiple charges related to the pro-democracy demonstrations in 2019, as well as holding protests that disrupted city legislature meetings.
Judge Andrew Chan said that Hui tricked police and the court into lifting pre-trial travel restrictions by using false documents about an official visit to Denmark.
Hui “made a mockery of the criminal justice system”, the judge said, adding that the deception was “carefully orchestrated”.
Responding to the sentence, Hui criticised the judge for “abetting tyranny” and said the sentencing would highlight the “insanity and ineptness” of Hong Kong’s authorities.
“Hong Kong’s courts have become the courts of the (Chinese) Communist Party, and political trials and sentencing that target dissent have become a common sight,” Hui wrote on social media.
In December 2020, Hui announced after his Denmark trip that he had gone into exile in light of Beijing’s crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong.
The activist has since resettled in Australia.
He is among six exiled activists wanted by Hong Kong authorities after he urged the public to cast blank votes in a legislature election, following Beijing’s overhaul of the electoral system.