Four former members of Hong Kong pro-democracy activist group Student Politcism were sentenced to up to three years in prison or a training centre on Saturday after being convicted under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Wong Yat-chin, who was the convenor of the defunct political group, Chan Chi-sum, its secretary general, and former spokespersons Jessica Chu and Alice Wong appeared at the District Court in front of Judge Kwok Wai-kin, one of the city’s handpicked national security judges, on Saturday.

Student Politicism
Student Politicism’s Facebook page. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The group pleaded guilty in July to conspiracy to incite subversion under the national security law.

Kwok ruled that the national security case fell into the law’s “minor nature” category. According to the national security law, if the court rules that an offence is of a minor nature, the defendant “shall be sentenced to a fixed-term imprisonment of not more than five years, short term detention or restriction.”

Wong Yat-chin, Chan, and Chu were sentenced to 36, 34, and 30 months in prison, respectively, after a one-third deduction from the starting point for pleading guilty. Alice Wong was sentenced to a training centre, an alternative to imprisonment for those aged below 21 where the period of detention ranges from six months to three years.

Chu initially asked to be sentenced to a training centre, but on Saturday, Chu’s barrister David Iu said that his client had changed her mind, and wanted to be sentenced to prison instead.

Iu explained that Chu had been studying for a university degree while in custody, and that the vocational training in a training centre would interfere with her studies. Additionally, Chu preferred a set jail term so that she could arrange for people to take care of her grandmother, Iu said.

Reasons for sentencing

The prosecution listed seven street booths organised by the group, with themes varying from supporting the 12 Hongkongers captured by the Chinese coastguard as they tried to flee to Taiwan to resisting the government’s Covid-19 anti-epidemic measures.

Wan Chai Law Courts District Court
The District Court in Wan Chai. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The group was said by the prosecution to have spread messages inciting others to take part in a resistance.

Kwok rejected the defence’s mitigation on the limited impact of the street booths on Saturday, and said that while the case was not as serious as that involving “Captain America 2.0″ Ma Chun-man, it still involved “very serious crimes,” and that the defendants were promoting the concept of a “Hong Kong nation.”

“Since ancient times, Hong Kong has been a part of China, and Hongkongers belong to the Chinese nationality. ‘Hong Kong nation’ is only a concept constructed by those promoting Hong Kong independence, it has no historical or legal basis,” Kwok said.

During mitigation, the defence argued that the defendants did not understand the meaning of the slogan “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” as the High Court had yet to rule that the slogan had the capability to incite others to commit secession.

The judge rejected that argument, and said that he was sure that all defendants knew what the slogan meant when taking part in the street booths, and had “correctly represented their intentions,” which was to promote Hong Kong independence.

Kwok Wai-kin
Judge Kwok Wai-kin. Photo: Judiciary.

Kwok also rejected the defence’s argument that by the time the street booths were held, society had already returned to peace.

The judge said that the details of the case showed that society was only “peaceful on the surface,” and said that the defendants’ actions posed a threat to national security and the safety of the city’s government.

Kwok said that the Student Politicism case was not as serious as Ma’s because they made fewer public appearances and did not use social media to spread their message.

The judge also said that the only reason he reduced the jail terms was because the defendants pleaded guilty.

Student Politicism disbanded in September last year after its leaders were arrested and charged under the security law. The organisation – founded in May 2020 – said it could no longer “continue our mission” and dismissed all members and volunteers. It paid tribute to the “precious support” from Hongkongers.

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.