Three University of Hong Kong (HKU) students facing national security charges were granted bail after the judge considered the prompt withdrawal of a student union council resolution expressing sympathy for a man who stabbed a police officer and then killed himself.
Former HKU student union and council members Kinson Cheung, Charles Kwok, and Chris Todorovski were granted bail in September by High Court Judge Esther Toh, and the reason for the court decision was published on Friday.
The trio, along with Anthony Yung, were arrested and charged under the Beijing-imposed national security law in August for allegedly advocating terrorism. Yung was granted bail in August. It was the first national security law case where all defendants were granted bail.
According to the court judgement, Senior Counsel Hectar Pun, representing Cheung, argued that the prompt withdrawal showed that the 19-year-old was neither “determined” nor “resolute.”
“Significantly, [Pun] also submitted that the open withdrawal and apology which was tendered very shortly after the resolution was announced, showed that the likelihood of [Cheung] committing similar acts in the future would be minimal, as that is clearly shown him to be neither ‘determined’ nor ‘resolute’,” the judgement read.
Toh also wrote in the judgement that Pun “rightly observed” that – under the sweeping legislation – “a lighter penalty may be imposed” or the penalty may be reduced, or, in cases of a “minor offence,” punishment might be exempted if the defendant “in the process of committing an offence, voluntarily discontinues the commission of the offence or voluntarily and effectively forestalls its consequences.”
A motion was first tabled and passed by the HKU Student Union Council July 7 to mourn Leung Kin-fai, the 50-year-old who committed suicide after stabbing and injuring a police officer on July 1, the 24th anniversary of Hong Kong’s Handover to China.
Leung’s act – condemned as “lone wolf terrorism” by the authorities – was described as a “sacrifice” in the student motion.
However, the council, led by Kwok, then withdrew the motion in the early hours of July 9 and apologised, after it attracted criticism from the government, including Chief Executive Carrie Lam and the Security Bureau. The union’s leadership then quit.
‘Conscientious, responsible and caring’
The court document also revealed that HKU law professor Albert Chen wrote a letter in support of Cheung, saying that he believed the former student leader “now realised the mistake that he and his fellow students in the Students’ Union Council have made, genuinely regrets what he has done, and has sincerely apologised for his mistake.”
“In these circumstances, I firmly believe that [Cheung] would not engage in any speech or act that constitute an offence against national security if he is granted bail,” wrote Toh.
The judge also gave reasoning as to why she granted bail to Kwok and Todorovski, saying that she had “no doubt about their backgrounds,” with both students described as “conscientious, responsible and caring” by people who knew them.
“Both have accomplished much academically and both have clear records. Both are noted from people that know them to be conscientious, responsible and caring. I have no doubt about their backgrounds,” wrote Toh.
“Similar to [Cheung], it is also argued on their behalf that, both [Kwok and Todorovski] no longer had any connection with the HKUSU and that they had resigned from their positions, nor have they any connections with foreign or local organizations that may have political affiliation.”
The national security law, imposed by Beijing in June last year, criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure.
Bail applications in national security cases also have to go through a stricter assessment, where the judge not only has to consider the defendant’s risk of absconding, chances of reoffending or obstructing justice, but also has to have “sufficient grounds for believing that the criminal suspect or defendant will not continue to commit acts endangering national security.”
The four will appear in court again on January 20.