A preacher and an elderly woman, both of whom were frequent court-goers, have pleaded not guilty to sedition charges over allegedly disrupting a hearing.
Chiu Mei-ying, 67, and Garry Pang, a 59-year-old pastor, entered their pleas in front of Magistrate Cheng Lim-chi at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Thursday. Both stand accused of “uttering seditious words,” while Pang had also been charged with committing “acts with seditious intention.”
The charges stem from January 4, 2022, when the pair attended a court hearing for pro-democracy activist Chow Hang-tung, who was convicted and sentenced to a 15-month jail term over a banned Tiananmen vigil last year.
During that hearing, the public gallery erupted in applause after Chow made a speech, with the magistrate ordering police officers to note the identities of those who clapped, saying that the court was “not a stage for performance.”
Pang also ran a YouTube channel that mainly published videos about court cases related to the 2019 protests. He has been accused of doing an act or acts with seditious intent by “producing, uploading and broadcasting videos on YouTube,” as well as “maintaining” the channel, with the intention to “bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection” against the Judiciary and Hong Kong people between November 17, 2020 and February 16 this year.
When entering his plea for the seditious act charge, Pang said: “On my conscience, I plead not guilty.” On the seditious words charge, he said: “By the principle of justice, I plead not guilty.”
Chiu also pleaded not guilty.
Prior to taking the defendants’ pleas, the magistrate questioned the seditious act charge against Pang, which was under section 10 of the Crimes Ordinance. Cheng said section 11(1) of the same ordinance stipulates that prosecution for an offence under section 10 must be carried out “within 6 months after the offence is committed.”
The prosecution pressed charges in April and Cheng questioned whether that would exceed the six-month limit as the prosecutor accused Pang of making seditious comments and acts starting November 2020.
The prosecution said its focus was on “maintaining” the YouTube channel, indicating that it was a “continuous offence,” so it would be fine as long as the last day of the alleged offence fell within six months of the charges being laid. The magistrate accepted the explanation and allowed the case to proceed.
Judges as witnesses request denied
Pang, who chose to defend himself in court, applied to summon six witnesses for the trial, including two judges and one magistrate. He said that summoning magistrate Amy Chan would be important for his defence because she was the one who handled the Chow Hang-tung case. He said he had criticised Chan for “losing her conscience” because he believed she had erred in her ruling.
Cheng rejected all of Pang’s requests, saying what the magistrate said did not matter in this case and the proposed witnesses would not be able to provide helpful testimonies.
Chiu’s lawyers, meanwhile, challenged whether the sedition law had disproportionate restrictions over freedom of speech. While people may criticise the Judiciary or judges, as long as they were not “inciting violence,” they should not be punished. It was subjective to determine “contempt, hatred and disaffection,” they said.
The defence lawyers also sought to challenge the constitutionality of the sedition previsions, a point the prosecution rebutted, arguing that the ordinance had never been ruled unconstitutional by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress – China’s top legislature.
The Standing Committee is empowered by the Basic Law to review and abolish colonial-era laws that contravene the mini constitution.
The defence responded saying decisions made by the committee were not legally-binding and Hong Kong courts could draw their own conclusions. Cheng said he would make a decision next Monday. If the sedition law is ruled to be unconstitutional, the defendants will have no case to answer.
Cheng adjourned the case to next Monday. Pang continued to be remanded while Chiu had her bail extended.