Lawyers for a man on trial for allegedly inciting secession have argued that their client intended to repeatedly chant pro-independence slogans in public shortly after the national security law’s enactment as a test. Ma Chun-man’s actions were immature, but he had no real intent to incite others to endanger national security, a court on Tuesday heard.

The District Court in Wan Chai. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

The 30-year-old became the second person in the city to face a national security trial after he was accused of “inciting secession” over the content of slogans he chanted and speeches he made during at least 20 public occasions, and via social media.

Ma declined to give evidence or to summon witnesses last week.

On Tuesday, District Court judge Stanley Chan heard closing submissions from Ma’s senior defence counsel Edwin Choy and from prosecutor Laura Ng, as both sides weighed in on whether there was sufficient evidence to demonstrate that Ma’s intent was to incite others to effect secession. The defence did not dispute the evidence submitted by the prosecution, and did not ask to cross examine the prosecution’s witnesses.

Choy argued that video evidence showed Ma saying in public that his purpose for chanting slogans in public — weeks after the national security law’s enactment — was to prove that the legislation would not reduce civic freedoms and human rights in the city, as he could not be prosecuted over his slogans and speech.

In a video clip, Ma showed that he wanted “to prove the national security law was not a beast, and that the legislation continues to protect human rights and freedoms. Therefore his intent was not to incite,” Choy said.

Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. Parents, kids, aunties, uncles, and young lovers joined together to raise their fists in hope and defiance, their shouts of “Five demands! Not one less!” December 8, 2019. Photo: Ben Marans.

“He wanted to be a ‘touchstone’… and wanted to tell others: ‘I’m not in trouble even for saying that.’ It may sound immature, but there was no intent to incite [secession],” Choy said.

He then quoted from evidence, where Ma said: “Because you won’t be able to subvert the country by only using your mouth. [Prosecuting] subversion requires real actions and evidence to support it.”

Ma’s calls for an “uprising by force” amounted to “bogus, empty talk, devoid of constructive value” as he had never made suggestions as to how that could be carried out, the defence said. “The defendant is immature in attitude… If his attitude was not to split the country, that’s not crime of secession.”

“He said: ‘I want to prove that shouting slogans is a civic freedom Hongkongers enjoy’. If this was his attitude, then I don’t think his intent was to incite secession,” Choy said.

‘Legal expert’

However, the judge questioned whether the defendant was truly behaving immaturely as he had been arrested at least six times and chanted the slogans on at least 20 occasions. Chan also said it appeared “strange” that Ma proclaimed to know what would be considered a breach of the national security law, as if he was a legal expert.

“It was shortly after the law was promulgated, [I] believe neither you nor a judge would dare say how the law would be implemented,” Chan told Choy. But the defence said this constituted proof that Ma was immature.

Ma Chun-man. File photo: The Stand News.

The prosecution went on to state that the evidence sufficiently proved that Ma wanted to promote “the will for independence”, which would endanger national security. The prosecutor also submitted a diary entitled “Captain America’s Diary of Resistance,” where he described meals and some public gatherings he joined, the judge said. Prosecutors did not cite the diary as evidence and its content was not disclosed in court.

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. The verdict will be handed down on October 25.

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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.