Hong Kong pastor Garry Pang, who has been accused of sedition over an alleged disturbance of court proceedings, has questioned the accuracy of a transcript of an audio recording presented during his trial.

Preacher Garry Pang and Chiu Mei-ying, 67, appeared at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts as the trial against them continued on Monday. Both stand accused of “uttering seditious words” in court in January, while Pang faces another charge of committing “acts with seditious intention.”

Defendant Chiu Mei-ying. File photo: Almond Li/HKFP.

Chiu’s lawyers last week challenged the constitutionality of the colonial-era sedition law, saying it may contravene the Basic Law. However, magistrate Cheng Lim-chi ruled that it was constitutional and ordered the trial to proceed. He said he would explain his decision on the matter later, likely together with the verdict.

Monday’s hearing focused mainly on allegations against Pang.

According to a summary of facts agreed by both the prosecution and Pang, the 59-year-old preacher attended a court hearing as an independent online journalist on January 4. Pang had operated a YouTube channel since May 2020, which mainly published videos about court cases related to the 2019 protests.

During that hearing, pro-democracy activist Chow Hang-tung was convicted and sentenced to a 15-month jail term over a banned Tiananmen vigil last year.

Pang and Chiu were accused of clapping after Chow made her mitigation speech and uttering seditious words criticising the magistrate.

Garry Pang’s YouTube channel. Photo: 牧師和你顛, screenshot via YouTube.

The prosecution, led by acting assistant director of public prosecutions Betty Fu, submitted eight videos as evidence, including live streams Pang hosted outside the city’s courts after attending protest-related hearings.

Police witness

Fu on Monday summoned a police officer as the prosecution’s first witness. The officer, surnamed Cheung, was responsible for transcribing an audio recording of the January 4 court proceedings. The prosecution played audio of the mitigation speech Chow made that day.

Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The court heard that Chow was at times interrupted by the magistrate, asking her not to make political statements and to focus on mitigating her case. The court also heard two rounds of applause following Chow’s remarks, as well as a male voice – allegedly Pang’s – shouting in Cantonese: “you have lost your conscience.”

During cross-examination, Pang, who opted to defend himself in court, questioned the accuracy of the transcript of the audio recording and an investigation report prepared by the officer. Pang said some words in the transcript did not match the recording. He also questioned how the officer had concluded that it was him who had shouted in the court room.

Defendant Garry Pang. Photo: 牧師和你顛, screenshot via YouTube.

“Before listening to this audio recording, had you ever heard my voice?” Pang asked Cheung. The officer replied he had never heard Pang’s voice prior to that, adding he identified Pang by studying other investigative materials.

“That means when you put down my name [as the speaker] in the transcript, you did not [get that information] from the audio recording. Do you agree?” Pang asked the policeman. Cheung said he agreed.

The investigation report also wrongly described the suspect’s clothing, Pang added. Cheung’s report stated that the defendant wore a long-sleeved black top, a pair of black trousers, a pair of black-framed eyeglasses and a black face mask. Pang disputed that by showing the court several screen captures of him wearing a short-sleeved shirt and a white surgical mask. Cheung later said he had made a mistake.

Stay of proceedings rejected

Before any witnesses were summoned, Pang applied for a stay of proceedings – asking for the case against him to be dropped. He called the sedition provisions under the Crimes Ordinance “ancient laws,” which had stayed dormant for decades until a Hong Kong court recently convicted pro-democracy activist Tam Tak-chi under them.

Photo: GovHK.

Pang said “Hong Kong entered a new legal era” when Beijing imposed the national security law in June 2020. “I cannot tolerate there is still ‘Her Majesty’ [in Hong Kong’s laws],” he said, making an apparent reference to the Crimes Ordinance, which penalised seditious words and acts against the British monarchy during the colonial period. He said the prosecution should not use colonial-era laws to press charges now.

Pang, however, clarified to the court that he was not inviting the prosecution to charge him under the national security law, which could carry a higher penalty if he were convicted.

The national security law criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which have been broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure.

Magistrate Cheng first said it was inappropriate for Pang to make such application after the trial has begun, as it should have been made beforehand. He then rejected Pang’s application as there was no injustice against him done by the prosecution which would warrant calling off the case completely.

A court-goer wearing a black t-shirt bearing the Chinese phrase “conscience” to support defendants Garry Pang and Chiu Mei-ying on September 5, 2022. Photo: Almond Li/HKFP.

The trial will continue on Tuesday, with police officer Cheung continuing to take the stand and undergo cross examinations. The prosecution also revealed that it will play Pang’s YouTube videos and summon five more witnesses.

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Almond Li

Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.