A second Hong Kong man has gone on trial under the national security law for inciting secession, with prosecutors alleging he shouted pro-independence slogans on 20 occasions.

Ma Chun-man, 30, was charged last November under Article 20 of the law imposed by Beijing, which bans acts of inciting others to commit secession or to undermine national unification by separating Hong Kong from the People’s Republic of China.

Police officer Kong Yuen-tam, the first prosecution witness who appeared on the first day of Ma Chun-man’s trial on September 28, 2021. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

Tong Ying-kit, the first person convicted under the law after trial, was sentenced to nine years in prison in July for inciting secession and committing terrorism. He is appealing.

Ma, once a regular sight at the 2019 protests and nicknamed “Captain America 2.0”, has been in custody for 10 months since his arrest last November. “I understand. I plead not guilty,” he said after the charges were read out to him.

The offence is punishable by up to 10 years in prison but sentences in the district court, where the trial is being held before a single judge, are capped at seven years.

The prosecution led by Senior Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Laura Ng alleged when the trial began on Tuesday that Ma had shouted and displayed slogans in public places with intent to incite secession, on 20 occasions between August 15 and November 22 last year.

The locations included shopping malls, outside government headquarters and in front of the Central police station. Ma also posted messages on social media and gave media interviews in which he expressed similar ideas, prosecutors said.

Eighteen videos available publicly and two filmed by police will be submitted as evidence. Prosecutors will call two police witnesses during the course of the trial, expected to last five days.

District Court. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

Senior counsel Edwin Choy said the defence would contest whether Ma had intended to incite secession, and would argue that prosecutors cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that messages posted to a Facebook account in his name were actually from Ma.

During their opening statement, prosecutors alleged that Ma used slogans that incited secession during protests, including “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times!” “Everybody be armed, uprising by force,” and “Be empowered as a people, independence to Hong Kong.”

On several occasions the defendant held up a sign that read: “Be empowered as a people, ONE Nation, ONE Hong Kong,” prosecutors alleged.

The defendant also promoted Hong Kong independence during 13 interviews with reporters during this period at protests, they said.

Through messages posted to a Telegram channel he managed and a Facebook account under his name, Ma called on the public to gather at Pacific Place shopping mall in Admiralty on October 15, 2020, to commemorate the death of a pro-democracy protester who fell from the building in June 2019.

Demonstrators hold a flag featuring the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” during a protest on July 1, 2020. Photo: Studio Incendo.

Police witness Kong Tam-yuen testified that he saw Ma shouting slogans that day along with two others, and issued him with a penalty ticket for violating Covid-19 restrictions.

Slogans and interviews

During an interview with about 15 reporters that day, Ma allegedly said: “According to Article 27 of the Basic Law, Hongkongers have the rights to [free] speech, to assembly, and to express their demands… We do not violate the law by speaking. Our demand is Hong Kong independence… I want to prove that… shouting these slogans does not violate the law.”

“The Hong Kong national security law is just for decoration under the Basic Law, it is nothing significant,” prosecutors quoted Ma as saying, during another event in Yuen Long on October 21. “That we promote independence is not against the law, and neither is discussion of independence.”

A protest near Pacific Place in 2019. File Photo: Studio Incendo.

The prosecution also cited Ma’s remarks, slogans, and signs displayed at other protests and assemblies in Tseung Kwan-O’s PopCorn shopping mall and Yuen Long’s Yoho Mall during the three-month period.

Before the opening submissions the judge denied a prosecution request to include as evidence a transcript of Ma’s submissions in another court case, in relation to breaching Covid-19 social gathering rules on August 15, 2020.

Defence lawyers argued that Ma’s statement was made during a court case of a different nature in which he had no legal representative.

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Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.