A Hong Kong university student convicted of inciting secession under the Beijing-imposed national security law has been sentenced to five years in jail.

Telegram messaging app
Telegram app. File photo: Amin Moshrefi, via Unsplash.

Lui Sai-yu, accused of selling weapons on messaging app Telegram and posting pro-independence messages, was handed the sentence at the District Court on Friday.

Judge Amanda Woodcock said the office was of a “serious nature” and – as per the text of the national security law – it required a sentence of at least five years, but no more than 10 years.

She initially took a starting point of five years and six months, but considering that the 25-year-old admitted guilt at the earliest opportunity, took one-third off the jail term to arrive at three years and eight months.

Judge Amanda Woodcock
Judge Amanda Woodcock. File Photo: Judiciary.

But the prosecution said that given the determination of the offence as serious, the discounted sentence should not fall below the minimum of five years. The defence appealed to the judge to reconsider.

Following two adjournments, Judge Woodcock said she “stood corrected.” She said she would not revise her earlier finding of the offence being serious, as the circumstances had not changed. She then overturned her original sentence to deliver a jail term of five years with no discounts.

Lui – a first-year Hong Kong Polytechnic University student – has already spent around 19 months in detention since his arrest in September 2020, when police seized a pepper ball gun, an extendable baton and other weapons used by demonstrators during the 2019 protests over a controversial extradition bill.

District Court
District Court. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Explaining the reasons for the sentence, Woodcock said Lui did not reach a wide audience but only a likeminded group that echoed each other.

But she added that the sale of weapons and items was an “aggravating factor,” and that the Telegram channel’s posts left “no doubt” that the defendant condoned and advocated secession and undermined national security.

Guilty plea

Lui’s sentencing follows his guilty plea on Wednesday. In mitigation, the defence argued that Lui – one of the administrators of the Telegram group translated from Chinese as “Channel of Anti-Communism and Hong Kong Independence” – was not a well-known figure and that his messages were not widely broadcast.

The defence added that Lui was described by his teachers as a responsible student in secondary school. In a letter written by Lui and translated by the defence, he said he had participated in lawful protests during the 2019 unrest, and only wanted for the people of Hong Kong to be listened to and respected.

October 1 National Day protests Hong Kong Island
A protest in 2019. File photo: Aidan Marzo/HKFP.

Passed in the wake of the 2019 protests and unrest, the national security law criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure.

The city’s highest-profile national security case – involving 47 leading democrats who took part in an unofficial primary that authorities said aimed to paralyse the government – has seen dozens of activists detained for over a year while waiting for their subversion trial.

Rights groups and activists say the sweeping law has been used to silence civil society groups and pro-democracy leaders, but the authorities maintain it has restored stability and peace to Hong Kong.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.