A 16-year-old boy charged with conspiracy to incite subversion has been granted bail by a High Court judge, after close to three months in custody awaiting his national security trial. His bail conditions include not sharing, commenting on, or “liking” social media posts or otherwise expressing any opinion related to politics and current affairs.
Four of his teachers also gave sureties and made guarantees that they will submit signed documents to the court and the police to prove the boy’s attendance in school or at church every day of the week while out on bail.
Tseung Chau was one of seven members of the group Returning Valiant. The activists were charged in late September with inciting others to overthrow or to undermine the Hong Kong and the Chinese governments under the security law, along with a related conspiracy charge. Four of the defendants were minors aged 16, including Tseung.
One of the defendants in the case was only 15-years-old at the time of charge – Hong Kong’s youngest national security defendant thus far.
Tseung was first arrested in May and was given police bail, but he was remanded into custody after police pressed charges against him and on the other defendants in September.
After listening to submissions from both the defence counsel and Acting Senior Public Prosecutor Stella Lo, High Court Judge Alex Lee granted the defendant bail. “The nature of the charges were serious,” Lee said. “The court must be certain that the defendant will not commit any further acts that may endanger national security.”
“The court bears no burden of proof, but must make a forward-looking risk assessment,” Lee said in his judgement.
During the proceedings, a member of the defence legal team rushed back and forth into the public gallery to discuss and smooth out bail condition details with the defendant’s teachers from school and from church.
As soon as bail was announced, a teenage boy in the public gallery broke down crying, bending over with his head buried in his lap. One of the defendant’s teachers held the boy’s hand to give comfort while he stifled his sobbing.
Banned from ‘liking’ news
In order to secure bail, Tseung must satisfy a list of conditions stricter than those faced by defendants in other national security cases:
- The defendant is barred from from expressing any commentary related to politics or current affairs on any platform, including sharing, clicking “like” or expressing opinion in any format.
- A cash bond of HK$50,000.
- A surety of HK$50,000 from the defendant’s mother.
- Sureties of HK$20,000 from four of the defendant’s secondary school teachers.
- The defendant is to surrender all travel documents and is barred from leaving the city.
- The defendant must live at the current address. He is barred from moving unless with a magistrate’s prior approval.
- The defendant must report to a police station daily between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.
- The defendant will be placed under curfew between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
- The defendant must remain at school from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, in the presence of a teacher.
- If the defendant wishes to leave home on Sunday mornings until 1 p.m., he is only allowed to attend his usual church.
- The church’s pastor, his secondary school’s principal and vice principal must submit signed records as proof of the defendant’s presence at church or or at school.
- The defendant is barred from attending any public gatherings.
- The defendant is barred from communicating with any prosecution witness or members of Returning Valiant whether directly or indirectly.
- The defendant is barred from participating in and communicating with any political or advocacy groups.
There is no presumption of bail under the national security law, so bail applications have to go through a stricter assessment. Judges consider not only the defendant’s risk of absconding or obstructing justice, but also whether there are sufficient grounds for believing they “will not continue to commit acts endangering national security.”
Under court reporting restrictions on bail proceedings, written and broadcast reports are limited to only include the result of a bail application, the name of the person applying for bail and their representation, and the offence concerned.
After handing down his ruling and reading out bail conditions Tseung must satisfy, the judge asked the defendant in the dock to stand up while addressing him.
“These conditions are a substantial burden whether to your family, your school, or to your church. I hope you understand this,” the judge said. “In other words, many other people lost their freedom because of your situation. Your teachers could have kept their families company on Saturday or Sunday, but now they need to look after you. Your mother could have had more freedom, but now she needs to supervise you.”
“I understand,” the defendant said in response to the judge, in an assertive tone.
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