Two women have been charged with sedition by police from Hong Kong’s national security department over social media posts urging people not to get Covid-19 vaccines and to flout the city’s anti-epidemic rules. The arrests happened on the same day that the vaccine pass launched and social distancing measures were further tightened.

The pair surnamed Hau and Lam, aged 24 and 21 respectively, were arrested by national security officers on Thursday. Local media reported that they were shopkeepers in charge of a Taiwanese-style takeaway tea shop in a small Mong Kok shopping mall.

Lam was charged but was denied bail by a judge at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on Friday morning, while Hau was briefly hospitalised last night and was not able to appear before the judge due to a fever.

The Mong Kok tea shop where the two women were arrested on February 24, 2022. Photo: Internet.

In a statement issued following the arrest, the police accused them of publishing “seditious” posts on social media that “incited hatred and incited others to violate anti-epidemic regulations” since October 2020, contravening Sections 9 and 10 of the Crimes Ordinance.

One of the the women was arrested at the Mong Kok shop while the other was arrested at a residence in Tsuen Wan on Thursday evening, according to the police.

Police searched both locations, where they seized “posters inciting hatred and inciting others to violate anti-epidemic regulations” and electronic devices used to publish the alleged seditious messages.

Covid-19 and national security

In a recent message posted to Instagram, the tea shop – a pro-democracy business – urged followers not to get vaccinated against Covid-19, in contrast to the government’s calls to increase the vaccination rate.

The coronavirus “has turned into a flu,” they said in the post, adding that other countries had removed epidemic regulations as “vaccines could not prevent anything.”

West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“Why does the government need to put up a big show to create panic?” the post said.

The shop also called against getting tested for the coronavirus at government facilities and linking vaccination records to the government-developed LeaveHomeSafe app.

“Members of the public are urged to discern fact from fallacy and not to be misled by unfounded and biased information,” the police statement read.

If convicted, the women could face up to two years imprisonment.

While sedition is not part of the national security law, more than 30 arrests for the offence have been conducted by the city’s national security police.

Photo: GovHK.

Instead, the sedition law falls under the colonial-era Crimes Ordinance, and was last amended in 1972 when the city was under British colonial rule. It outlaws treason, incitement to mutiny and disaffection and other offences against the British Crown.

Twenty-five people and four companies have been charged with acts endangering security under the sedition law since September 2020, including top editors at the now-defunct news outlets Apple Daily and Stand News and their business entities.

Last week, singer Tommy Yuen was arrested and charged under the same law for “vilifying” government policies on Covid-19 and “cursing” judges, according to police. He was denied bail.

In December, Hong Kong’s top court determined that the higher threshold for the national security law would apply to other offences if they involved acts endangering national security.

Suspects in these cases are not entitled to bail by default, as they must prove to a judge that they “will not continue to commit acts endangering national security.”

Correction 14.38: A previous version of this story misstated that both defendants appeared in court on Friday morning. Only Lam did.

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.