In the first’sedition’ trial since China’s handover, a Hong Kong radio host faces charges.
The first use of the colonial-era statute since the city’s handover to China, a pro-democracy Hong Kong radio broadcaster went on trial for sedition on Thursday, as authorities widen their criminalization of dissent.
Tam Tak-chi, 48, is one of a growing number of activists accused of sedition, a rarely used decades-old legislation that prosecutors have resurrected in the last year.
It is distinct from Hong Kong’s wide national security law, which was enacted last year and has also been used to pursue dissidents.
Tam, better known by his stage name “Fast Beat,” is facing eight sedition charges for statements he either spoke or wrote between January and July of last year.
Other charges against him include incitement to an unauthorized gathering and disruptive conduct.
Prosecutors read out those slogans, as well as some pro-democracy speeches Tam gave, which were often littered with colorful Cantonese curse words, at the start of his trial on Thursday.
“Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” “Corrupt policemen, all of your family go to hell,” “Disband Hong Kong police, no more delays,” and “Down with the Communist Party of China” were among the slogans.
The trial is a watershed legal moment for Hong Kong because it will set a precedent for what political words and viewpoints are now considered illegal as China seeks to wipe out dissent in the aftermath of massive and often violent democratic rallies two years ago.
In the first trial under Hong Kong’s new national security law, a former waiter was found guilty of terrorism and inciting separatism on Tuesday.
Judges ruled during that trial that the popular protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” was secessionist and thus a national security crime.
Tam’s trial was postponed so that judges could await the outcome of a higher court’s decision on Tuesday.
Sedition is widely defined in Hong Kong as any comments that incite “hatred, contempt, or disaffection” toward the government or “promote disaffection” among citizens.
It was first drafted by colonial ruler Britain in 1938 and has long been criticized as a statute that restricts freedom of expression.
It had not been utilized in decades and was a mostly forgotten relic on the statute books in a city that had become a regional bulwark of free speech by the time of Hong Kong’s handover in 1997.
However, China is currently remaking Hong Kong in its own authoritarian image, and the sedition statute has been resurrected by the newly formed national security police unit.
Five members of a pro-democracy Hong Kong group were arrested last week. Brief News from Washington Newsday.