A former police officer who stands accused of making seditious comments on Facebook over the death of a Hong Kong marine officer has sought to block prosecutors from presenting the content of his phones as evidence in a trial under the colonial-era sedition law.

West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts
West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Defendant Chui Chun-man appeared before Acting Principal Magistrate Veronica Heung on Monday, when the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts was scheduled to begin a five-day trial against the former uniformed officer. The magistrate had to handle disputes concerning the evidence before the trial hearing could officially get underway.

Chui was said to have done an act or acts with seditious intention between September 25 and 28 last year by posting comments on the police Facebook page, which were intended to incite hatred or contempt against the government and the judiciary.

The defence on Monday sought to bar prosecutors from presenting the content extracted from two of Chui’s phones as evidence, saying the devices were unlocked with a passcode which the defendant had “involuntarily” provided.

Hong Kong Police
Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

According to the defence, Chui was ordered to hand over his phone by three senior officers on September 28, 2021, when he returned to Ma On Shan Police Station after patrolling. The trio allegedly cited disciplinary violations in requesting to inspect Chui’s phone.

A senior sergeant was said to have asked Chui to provide his passcode, warning that he could face another disciplinary violation if he did not act accordingly. Chui was asked if he had other mobile devices and he gave the senior officers another phone, telling the trio that he used the same passcode for all of his phones. He was suspended the next day.

Police later arrested and charged Chui last November. He has been on bail pending trial.

The comments Chui allegedly made related to the death of marine officer Lam Yuen-yee, who drowned during a police operation against suspected smuggling. The speedboat she was on collided with a vessel carrying suspected smugglers, causing it to capsize. Her body was found days later near the coast of Yi O on Lantau island.

A post on the Hong Kong Police Facebook page dated November 2, 2021 to mourn the death of marine officer Lam Yuen-yee.

The prosecution on Monday summoned sergeant Wong Ming-ho of the Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau, who told the court that he found two comments on the police Facebook page left by an account under the name “Chun Chui” on September 25, 2021. He later identified the defendant as the account user, after doing a license plate check based on a photo Chui posted with his vehicle.

Without disclosing the content of Chui’s comment, Wong described the comments as “negative and suspicious,” saying it made him “suspect whether he had other intentions.”

The hearing will continue on Tuesday morning.

Sedition is not covered by the Beijing-imposed national security law, which targets secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts and mandates up to life imprisonment. Those convicted under the sedition law, which was last amended in the 1970s when Hong Kong was still a British colony, face a maximum penalty of two years in prison. 

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.