A former top editor of defunct Hong Kong outlet Stand News has been granted bail after his lawyer called on the court to terminate the Stand News sedition trial over improper handling of evidence.
Patrick Lam, 34, the outlet’s former acting chief editor was granted HK$50,000 cash bail by Judge Kwok Wai-kin at District Court on Monday. Lam and his co-defendant Chung Pui-kuen, 52, alongside the outlet’s parent company Best Pencil (Hong Kong) Limited, stand accused of conspiring to publish “seditious publications.” Chung did not apply for bail.
In light of over 1,500 pages of new evidence being disclosed last week, defence counsel Audrey Eu applied for a permanent stay of proceedings, saying that the prosecution had violated the Prosecution Code by not submitting the evidence to the defence. If approved, the application would terminate the trial and release the defendants immediately.
Eu said that she was dissatisfied with the prosecution’s handling of the evidence, and stated her concern about not having enough time to go through the additional 1,500 pages of evidence.
Having received six piles of new documents on Monday morning, Eu said she had advised her clients to apply for a stay of proceedings, which requires both sides to hand in written submissions within three weeks.
“The situation has developed, and we aren’t responsible for it,” Eu told Kwok.
The hearing for the stay of proceedings is scheduled for December 13. If the application is denied, the sedition trial will continue on December 19 and end on January 27, 2023.
In her submission regarding Lam’s bail application, Eu said it would be “impossible” for Lam to prepare for the stay of proceedings hearing if he remained in custody, as meetings between him and his lawyers would be limited by visiting restrictions. Lam has also been suffering from an autoimmune disease since 2020, Eu added, and has been sent to hospital multiple times during his time in remand.
Eu said that among the 17 allegedly seditious articles accepted as evidence, only two were published while Lam was chief editor, arguing that it proved his involvement was less serious.
Lead prosecutor Laura Ng said some of the newly disclosed evidence included articles that were “seemingly seditious,” and would not help the defence. Ng said as the stay of proceedings was likely to be rejected, the prosecution opposed Lam’s bail application.
Kwok told the court he would not fault either side, yet agreed that it was not the defence who invented this new development.
“The fact is we have now six piles of new documents,” Kwok said, “asking the defendants to prepare [for the application] in jail would further affect our progress.”
Lam’s bail conditions include HK$50,000 cash bail, the confiscation of his passports, travel restrictions and weekly reports to the police station.
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.
The anti-sedition legislation, which was last amended in the 1970s when Hong Kong was still under British colonial rule, falls under the city’s Crimes Ordinance. It is separate from the Beijing-imposed national security law, and outlaws incitement to violence, disaffection and other offences against the authorities.
Non-profit online news outlet Stand News ceased operations last December after its newsroom was raided by more than 200 national security police officers. Seven people connected to the publication – including Chung and Lam – were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to publish seditious publications.