An 18-year-old man pleaded guilty to four counts of sedition and insulting the national anthem and national flag on Wednesday, after he published “seditious” social media posts and disrespectful parodies.

chinese national anthem march of the volunteers
A music score for the Chinese national anthem. Photo: GovHK.

Chui Hoi-chun appeared in front of Chief Magistrate Victor So at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court. He stands accused of “doing an act or acts with seditious intentions,” intending to insult the national anthem by intentionally publishing “altered lyrics,” as well as intentionally publishing “a desecration of the national flag” with intent, between May 28, 2020 and September 27 this year.

Chui’s allegedly seditious content included the posting of protest slogans – “Hong Kong independence, the only way out” and “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” – on popular forums LIHKG and Discord. The latter slogan has been deemed illegal since the onset of the Beijing-imposed security law.

Some of his posts also incited others to be hostile to people coming from mainland China, according to a brief read out in court.

Forum LIHKG. Photo: Almond Li/HKFP.

For charges related to insulting or desecrating the national anthem and national flag, the prosecution alleged that the defendant criticised Chinese leader Xi Jinping and altered the lyrics of the anthem, “March of the Volunteers,” following the enactment of the National Anthem Ordinance in June 2020.

He also was accused of posting a parody video on YouTube, in which he replaced the five yellow stars on the national flag with Chinese characters representing swear words. He was said to have switched out the lyrics of the anthem with a word that sounded like the swear word “fuck” in Cantonese.

Legal arguments

Before Chui entered his guilty plea, his lawyer and the prosecutor spent the morning resolving some legal disputes. Steven Kwan, who represented Chui, argued that part of the sedition charge was invalid as some of the acts exceeded the six-month prosecution time limit. He said the same applied to the national anthem or national flag charges, which have a prosecution time limit of up to two years.

The barrister also argued that Chui was outside of Hong Kong when the first publication was made, so he should not be prosecuted for those offences, which Hong Kong courts do not have extraterritorial jurisdiction over.

Victor SO Wai-tak 蘇惠德
Victor So. Photo: Judiciary.

Prosecutor Ivan Cheung, in response, said Chui’s series of posts were treated as a continuous offence, so the charge was valid. The magistrate agreed with Cheung, adding that the seditious activity in the social media posts happened in Hong Kong and targeted an audience in the city, therefore the offences were within Hong Kong’s jurisdiction.

Guilty plea

After So ruled that the charges were valid, Chui pleaded guilty to all four charges. Kwan submitted six mitigation letters on behalf of the defendant and requested that the court seek rehabilitation and psychology reports prior to deciding a sentence. He called for leniency, saying the defendant was only 16 years old when he committed the offences, and that he has been remanded in custody for over two months already.

So said he will obtain a psychologist’s report and a training centre report, which applies to defendants under the age of 21.

The sentencing was expected to be handed down on December 14.

Hong Kong’s national anthem law, which criminalises insults to March of the Volunteers, was enacted on June 4, 2020 – violators risk fines up to HK$50,000 or three years in prison. The national flag and emblem law meanwhile was passed on September 29 last year, with the maximum penalty being a HK$50,000 fine and three-year imprisonment.

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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.