Prosecutors submitted five black t-shirts printed with the words “I’d rather die speaking than live in silence” as evidence to the court on Wednesday – the second day of the city’s second national security trial where a protester has been charged with inciting secession.

Wan Chai government tower. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

Defendant Ma Chun-man, 30, was accused of allegedly calling for independence on 20 occasions in 2020. Once a regular sight at the 2019 protests and nicknamed “Captain America 2.0”, Ma has been in custody for 10 months since his arrest last November. He faces up to seven years imprisonment if convicted.

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, in connection with flying a flag as he charged at a group of police officers on a motorcycle. He is appealing.

Ma, meanwhile, is on trial solely for the content of slogans he chanted and speeches he made in public or via social media.

‘Give me liberty or give me death’

On Wednesday morning, national security police witness Lee Wai-chun testified on details of Ma’s arrest last September and a subsequent raid on his home, where police found a total of five identical black t-shirts in his bedroom.

The t-shirts were printed with the words in Chinese: “I’d rather die speaking than live in silence,” and in English: “Give me liberty or give me death.”

File Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Ma was wearing an identical t-shirt at the moment of his arrest in Tseung Kwan-O, but it was worn inside-out. It first appeared that Ma was wearing a plain black t-shirt, the witness said, although the same words were inscribed on the inside.

Other items picked up during the house raid included some trousers, a desktop PC, and a notebook inscribed with the words “A diary about the resistance of Captain America.”

Another protest regular, also nicknamed “Captain America,” was seen in the public gallery during proceedings. Yung Wai-yip gained notoriety during the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests. Yung was released in May after serving a three-year prison sentence over protest-related offences committed in 2016.

Captain America 2.0

On Wednesday, prosecutors played videos taken at a dozen events in late 2020, showing Ma repeatedly shouting the “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” slogan and giving speeches in a shopping mall.

File Photo: Jimmy Lam/United Social Press.

In one clip, shot after Ma obtained police bail in September 2020, he was seen telling a citizen journalist that he managed a Telegram channel posting messages urging the public to gather in resistance and hope for a “revolution of our time.”

In the video, Ma also expressed his fears over the city’s national security forces. “[After my arrest] I deeply felt that the people from the national security department have a lot of power, as they can enter freely into different police stations… they are all so smart, and made me quite scared this time,” he said in the clip.

“I created this [Telegram channel] to urge Hongkongers not to be afraid of arrest, and to bravely trample on the bottom line. But I’m afraid now – not of arrest, but of the national security police,” he said.

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

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.