A preacher and an elderly woman have been jailed for sedition over comments they made about a Hong Kong magistrate during a protest-related case.
Pastor Garry Pang, 59, and Chiu Mei-ying, 68, were convicted of “uttering seditious words” and applauding from the public gallery during a hearing involving pro-democracy activist Chow Hang-tung in January. Pang was also found guilty of committing “acts with seditious intention” for operating a YouTube channel that commented on protest-related cases.
Pang, who has been in custody since April, was sentenced to 10 months for the seditious acts and three months for the seditious speech, with one month to be served concurrently. Chiu was given a three-month sentence.
Pang’s channel included live streams outside court buildings, in which he at times criticised the judges’ remarks or gestures. During the trial, Pang, who did not have a lawyer, said he was merely trying to remedy the errors of the judiciary.
Magistrate Cheng Lim-chi ruled that some of Pang’s videos were seditious.
In one of them, the pastor had criticised magistrate Amy Chan for “threatening to silence” people when she ousted spectators who clapped during the Chow Hang-tung trial.
Cheng said records showed that the magistrate had merely given a warning when people applauded for the first time and only asked spectators to leave the court when a second round of clapping occurred, but those details were left out of Pang’s video.
Cheng said Pang was biased and “selectively interpreted” what happened in the courtroom, misleading his audience and slandering Chan.
In another video, Pang said he had learned from other courtgoers that a High Court judge had without explanation barred people who wore yellow masks or a shirt with an umbrella logo from entering the courtroom. He criticised the judge for not acting according to the law.
Cheng, the magistrate, said Pang had treated claims as facts even though he could not verify their genuineness and had made baseless criticisms of the court.
“[The defendant] had a doctorate degree and had travelled to different places around the world, he is not someone without life experience. There is no way he would just take other people’s word and conclude that the court did not comply with the law,” Cheng said, giving the reason for his verdict.
The magistrate said Pang must have known that making comments online would not help remedy the errors or inadequacies of judges and magistrates, adding that complaints via official channels would be more appropriate.
‘Not a slip of tongue’
Regarding the charge of “uttering seditious words,” Cheng said Pang had admitted that he clapped in the Chow Hang-tung hearing and used phrases such as “You [magistrate Amy Chan] have lost your conscience.”
He said Pang “demeaned the magistrate” by openly criticising her and it was definitely not a case of “a slip of the tongue.”
Pang’s co-defendant, Chiu also chanted phrases that accused the magistrate of “non-compliance with the law, deciding the case arbitrarily, out-of-line behaviour and delivering unfair judgement,” Cheng ruled, adding her utterances were also not a slip of the tongue.
Cheng said the pair knowingly and intentionally made remarks that were seditious, bringing hatred and contempt against the administration of justice.
Pang said in mitigation it appeared he had lost the case but he was victorious in terms of “safeguarding conscience, defending freedoms, human rights and rule of law.”
Pang also said that “history will acquit me.”
Cheng asked if he had anything to say about his personal background as a mitigating factor. Pang replied that he would respect the magistrate’s ruling and had nothing further to add.
Chiu’s lawyer Colman Li appealed for leniency, saying the number of people who could have heard her comments was minimal. Society was not in a tense situation when the offence was committed.
Li added that her comments were merely an impromptu response to a court ruling and were not premeditated.
The defence lawyer said Chow Hang-tung’s hearing was related to the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown which stirred strong feelings among people of Chiu’s generation, prompting her to make an impulsive comment.
The 68-year-old had health problems and needed to attend medical appointments, Li said, asking the court to avoid a harsh sentence if possible.
In announcing the sentences, Cheng said Pang “continuously attacked different levels of court and judges” in an attempt to undermine the credibility of the court and damage the rule of law.
The magistrate said Pang’s YouTube channel was browsed by many people, with one of the videos garnering more than 9,000 views. Some people may have believed what Pang said was a fact.
As for uttering seditious words in court, Cheng said the defendants had continued to verbally attack the magistrate even after a warning was given, adding there was no reason for a sentence deduction in either case.
Chiu’s lawyer immediately applied for bail, saying she would appeal. Cheng granted bail in the sum of $50,000.
Supporters of the pair waved at them, telling them to stay strong, before they were led away from the dock. Pang waved back and gave a V-for-victory sign.