The members of the self-proclaimed “revolutionary” political group Returning Valiant were ignorant of the national security law and the consequences of breaking it, one of their defence lawyers told a Hong Kong court on Friday.

Leung Wan-yung, Kwok Man-hei and Tseung Chau Ching-yu submitted their mitigation in front of District Judge Kwok Wai-kin at the District Court on Friday, after three of their co-defendants did so last week.

Photo: Almond Li/HKFP.

They are among seven people, including four minors, who have pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring to incite subversion under the national security law for allegedly spreading seditious messages and inciting subversion by organising street booths and press conferences, as well as on social media, between January and May last year.

Chan, who was remanded, was absent from Friday’s hearing on Friday as he was listed as a Covid-19 close contact and was under medical surveillance. His lawyer Dick Lee said his mitigation needed to be postponed.

Ignorance of the law

During mitigation, barrister Tien Kei-rui, who represented Kwok, said all the defendants in this case were young and had little life experience. Tien argued that their ignorance of the Beijing-imposed security law and its consequences were among the reasons they committed the offence. At the time of their offence, the legislation had only been implemented for about six months, and schools had not yet started educating students about it, he said.

Returning Valiant. Photo: Retuning Valiant, via Facebook.

The group, he said, had received warnings from police regarding breaching anti-epidemic rules, but had never been warned about the possibility of violating the national security law. The defendants did not know that what they did was wrong, Tien argued.

“Had there been some such warnings, maybe the street booths that came afterwards would not have occurred,” he said.

Imminence of impact

Tien also argued about the imminence of the impact of the defendants’ speech or behaviour.

Judge Kwok, in the last hearing, raised concerns over the group encouraging people to “[get] prepared” and be ready when the right time came. Tien said it was important the court did not “estimate” the impact by “thinking too far ahead”, and should instead evaluate the impact on the present or in the near future, that is “the year or so that followed.”

File photo: May James/HKFP.

Tien also said the group’s impact was not far-reaching because their street booths did not draw much public attention and the content of their speeches was “no more than a joke” to anyone with sense. Their social media posts only had several hundred “likes,” he said, adding that people liking something did not mean they were being incited by it.

The judge, however, said a person can change “very quickly.”

“If someone accepted what [the group] said, then society would be in great danger,” the judge said, adding that it could cause a group of people to organise and cause trouble.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

In response, Tien said the defendants experienced challenges, including massive societal changes during the protests that started in 2019 during their puberty, but they were good people at heart and in nature.

Tien revealed to the court that Kwok was involved in another case, where she originally faced a terrorism charge under the national security law, but that was later replaced by an alternative charge of conspiring to make or possess explosives.

He said Kwok had pleaded guilty to the charge but has yet to be sentenced. Tien asked the court not to take this other case into account and to sentence the teenager to a training centre.

‘Inactive participation’

Cheung Yiu-leung, who represented 17-year-old Leung, also pleaded for leniency, arguing the teenager had shown “inactive participation” in the group’s activities. Leung only spoke at two of the street booths, where she basically repeated what other people had said, Cheung said.

Cheung further said the young girl was a good student who cared about social and current affairs and that her judgement had lapsed because she lacked the ability to determine right from wrong.

Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The lawyer said Leung has already been detained for one year and that was deterrent enough, adding that what she needed now was a chance of rehabilitation. He asked the court to give the teen a community service order.

Innocent teenager

David Chu, who represented Tseung Chau, urged the court to show leniency due to his young age. He said Tseung Chau was a month shy of 16 when the offence took place, and the main reason he had committed the offence was that he was an innocent teenager.

Chu said the defendant took part in just two Returning Valiant street booths and that he only recited some promotional materials at one of the events in January. Chu also asked the court to consider the need for rehabilitation for the young defendant, rather than a deterrent sentence.

Influence of media

Queenie Ng, the lawyer for one of their co-defendants Yuen Ka-him, made a supplementary plea by submitting a mitigation letter from Yuen’s parents. In the letter, they said they had tried their best to teach Yuen to be a good and law-abiding person. However, they said their busy work schedule made it difficult for them to communicate with Yuen, who was influenced and “misled” by some media, resulting in a “deviation of his mindset.”

They said Yuen liked travelling to the mainland and that he loved this country a lot. The court was also told that Yuen had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Bail application

Judge Kwok denied Leung’s bail application pending sentencing.

Kwok said he would seek correctional facilities reports for Tseung Chau, including that of detention centre, rehabilitation centre and training centre, but that required his bail to be revoked.

All defendants were remanded and will return to court on October 8.

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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.