Hong Kong sees first incarcerations for ‘seditious publication’ since handover

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Hong Kong (AFP) – Hong Kong courts on Monday jailed two people for publishing seditious content, the first time the colonial-era law has been used to secure a conviction for printed content since the city’s handover to China in 1997.

The sedition is a throwback to Hong Kong’s British colonial past, but has been dusted off as authorities wage a widespread crackdown on dissent following 2019 democracy protests.

Several people, including journalists, trade unionists and a prominent radio DJ, have been arrested under the law and face trial soon.

Last year, a woman was jailed for ‘conspiring to commit a seditious act’ over a pro-democracy chat group she ran which revealed personal details about police officers.

But Monday’s verdicts were the first convictions for seditious publication since the return to Chinese rule.

Kim Chiang Chung-sang, 41, a former property manager, was sentenced to eight months in prison for posting posters outside a kindergarten and the city’s High Court.

The posters criticized the judiciary for convicting a man last year in the first trial under a national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong to neutralize dissent.

Acting Chief Magistrate Peter Law said Chiang was “challenging the rule of law” and trying to “quietly poison the children”.

In a separate case that also ended on Monday, the district court jailed former clerk Chloe Tso Suet-sum, 45, for more than a year for asking a 17-year-old to conceive and d print protest leaflets.

Prosecutors said the leaflets contained slogans urging Hong Kongers to build their own army and nation, and also bore black bauhinia flowers, a symbol of the city’s now crushed democracy movement.

The 17-year-old, whom AFP chose not to name, was sent to a youth re-education center, a stone’s throw from a custodial sentence where minors usually stay between two and five months.

The defendants in both cases pleaded guilty, which normally results in a reduced sentence.

Sedition is punishable by two years in prison for a first offence.

During colonial rule, it was deployed against pro-Beijing media and leftist government critics who criticized it as a tool to suppress free speech.

Now, Chinese state media and Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing press have embraced its use against critics of the current government.

Police and prosecutors now routinely use sedition alongside national security law to suppress political speech and opinion.

It is treated as a national security crime, which means those arrested are usually denied bail.

In recent months, sedition charges have been leveled against pro-democracy trade unionists who produced euphemistic children’s books about a sheep village defending itself against invading wolves, as well as journalists from the now pro-democracy news outlets. closed Apple Daily and StandNews.

Ming Pao, a mainstream Chinese newspaper in Hong Kong, recently added a disclaimer to its columns saying it had no intention of committing sedition when criticizing government policy.

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