The sedition charge against a Hong Kong combat coach accused of planning to “build an army” to overthrow the government has been upgraded to incitement to subversion. The case will also be transferred to a higher court, where the defendant could face up to seven years in prison.

West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts
West Kowloon Law Courts Building. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Denis Wong, 59, and his 62-year-old assistant Iry Cheung appeared in front of Principal Magistrate Peter Law at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Monday, when the prosecution applied for the transferral and the charge amendment.

Under the new charge, Wong was accused of inciting others – between July 1, 2020 and March 20 this year – to organise, plan, commit or participate in “act or acts by force or threat of force or other unlawful means with a view to subverting the State power, namely overthrowing or undermining the basic system of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) established by the Constitution of PRC; and/or overthrowing the body of central power of PRC or the body of power of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.”

Subversion, together with secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, was criminalised under the national security enacted in June 2020.

People charged with incitement to subversion can face up to 10 years of jail under the Beijing-imposed legislation, but the District Court can only hand down a maximum sentence of seven years.

Wong was initially accused of acting with seditious intent, which carries a maximum jail term of two years.

National security law
File photo: GovHK.

The sedition law falls under Hong Kong’s Crime Ordinance, which was last amended in the 1970s when the city was still a British colony.

Wong and Cheung were additionally charged with possessing offensive weapons with intent and possessing arms without a licence.

Their first District Court hearing will be on September 22.

Remanded since March

Police officers from the National Security Department arrested the pair in March. They have been remanded in custody since.

According to the police, weapons such as crossbows, swords, bows and arrows, and air guns were found at places linked to the two defendants. They were allegedly aiming to “build an army” and “supporting Hong Kong independence.”

According to local media reports, the pair were also accused of spreading seditious speech on social media, including asking people not to get Covid-19 vaccines.

Steve LI
Senior Superintendent of the National Security Police Department Steve Li in an online press conference held on March 22, 2022. Photo: Hong Kong Police, via video screenshot.

Addressing reporters days after the arrests of Wong and Cheung, Senior Superintendent Steve Li of the National Security Department the pair’s alleged offences “far superseded seditious acts,” and that the police force was discussing with the Department of Justice about adding charges under the national security law.

“For example, we can see that the target is clear, emphasising on building an army, a brigade of black knights, supporting Hong Kong independence, targeting the regime of the People’s Republic of China and the SAR government,” Li said.

Three students of Wong, aged between 39 to 50, were later apprehended by the police in June as well. The trio are released under police bail.

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.