Hong Kong pro-democracy activist “Fast Beat” Tam Tak-chi will face trial in May next year for three cases linked to the colonial-era offence of sedition before a judge designated for hearing cases under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

On Thursday, the District Court assigned Judge Stanley Chan – appointed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam to oversee national security proceedings – to preside over Tam’s upcoming trial. It is despite the fact that the 47-year-old activist has not been charged under the controversial legislation, which bans secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts.

Tam Tak-chi budget 2018 paul chan protest
Tam Tak-chi. Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

The vice-chairman of political group People Power is facing of 14 charges, including uttering seditious words, which was criminalised under the Crimes Ordinance which was last amended in 1972 when the city was still under British colonial rule. Other charges included inciting others to knowingly take part in an unauthorised assembly, and holding an unauthorised assembly.

According to local media, Chan revealed at the beginning of Thursday’s hearing that he was one of the appointed judges for handling national security cases. He said he had the ability and power to hear Tam’s case, whether as a designated judge or a District Judge.

The prosecution had requested a national security law appointee to hear Tam’s case after they argued the slogans chanted by the activist – including “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” – were subversive. The popular protest slogan was declared illegal by the government two days after the the security law was enacted on June 30.

National security Hong Kong flag
Photo: GovHK.

Chan was chosen by Chief District Judge Justin Ko to determine if cases faced by the opposition activist should be handled by a national security judge, as the defence disputed the prosecution’s request.

Ko said on Wednesday that he would assign a designated judge to hear the application to avoid any potential “ultra vires” problems and legal challenges that may follow.

“I can see the possibility of ultra vires if the application is not determined by a designated judge. A non-designated judge who rules in favour of the prosecution would in effect be confirming that he/she personally lacks jurisdiction to handle the argument in the first place. His/her decision may be subject to challenge by way of judicial review,” Ko said.

district court
District Court. Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

During Thursday’s hearing, Chan did not declare whether Tam’s case fell within the ambit of the national security law, local media reported. The prosecutors said that, since the case was passed to a security law judge, it already fulfilled the requirement that any prosecution for offences endangering national security shall be handled by designated judges in the respective courts.

Tam’s defence did not object the arrangement, but said they would raise the relevant issues in court when the trial begins in May 2021.

Bail denied

Ex-lawmaker Ray Chan, who also chairs People Power, reacted to Chan’s takeover of Tam’s case outside the courthouse in Wan Chai: “This is to restrict the opportunity for Fast Beat to have a relatively reasonable judge and fair trial.”

He also accused the authorities as sending Tam to “imprisonment before conviction,” as the activist’s application for bail was denied again and he will be remanded in custody until the next court appearance.

In October, Tam’s lawyers asked the court to drop the sedition charges, saying they were against the Basic Law. Former legislator Chan said the application will be reviewed by the court in March next year.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.