Four University of Hong Kong (HKU) students who passed a motion expressing grief over the death of a man who killed himself after seriously injuring a police officer on July 1 are set to plead not guilty to advocating terrorism, a Hong Kong court has heard.

Former HKU student union and council members Kinson Cheung, Charles Kwok, Anthony Yung and Chris Todorovski appeared before Judge Lily Wong in District Court on Tuesday.

HKU Kinson Cheung Charles Kwok Chris Todorovski advocating terrorism
Charles Kwok (left), Chris Todorovski (middle) and Kinson Cheung (right) on August 11, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

The four are currently full-time students at HKU, even though the university cut ties with the union and at one stage barred the four from entering its campus.

The prosecution said they intended to summon 15 witnesses and present a 200-minute police-recorded interview video as evidence when the national security trial against the four students begins next year. A pre-trial review is scheduled for July 20, 2023, while the trial is set to open on September 11 and last for eight days. It will be handled by judges who have been hand-picked for national security cases.

While the defence said they planned to agree on most of the case details set out by the prosecution, they would argue whether the alleged acts of the defendants constitute an offense, the defence counsel said on Tuesday.

Cheung’s representative said Cheung was set to testify in court, whilst the other three defendants told the court they would not testify. The defence counsel added that they would summon one witness.

Under Article 27 of the national security law, the maximum penalty for advocating terrorism is 10 years. However, the case is currently being handled by the District Court, where the maximum jail sentence is capped at 7 years.

HKU Kinson Cheung Charles Kwok Chris Todorovski advocating terrorism
Charles Kwok (left), Chris Todorovski (centre) and Kinson Cheung on August 11, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Cheung, Kwok and Todorovski were granted bail last September after spending about a month in custody. Yung was granted bail after his first court appearance in August 2021, but was kept in custody for several days after the prosecution asked for a bail review. The High Court ruled in his favour and released him on bail later that month.

It is the first national security law case in which all defendants have been granted bail, as well as the first security law case related to university affairs.

Bail applications in national security cases have to go through a stricter assessment. Judges consider not only the defendant’s risk of absconding or obstructing justice, but also whether there are sufficient grounds for believing they “will not continue to commit acts endangering national security.”

HKU Student Union Council chairperson Kinson Cheung.
HKU Student Union Council chairperson Kinson Cheung. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

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 motion

The HKU Students’ Union Council passed a motion in early July last year to “express deep sadness” at the death of Leung Kin-fai, a 50-year-old man who killed himself after attacking and seriously injuring a police officer on July 1, 2021, the 24th anniversary of the city’s Handover from Britain to China. The council also praised Leung’s “sacrifice.”

Photo: Screenshot.

The student union’s declaration drew fierce criticism from then-chief executive Carrie Lam, university management, the pro-government camp, and Security Bureau officials. The latter said mourning the knife attacker was akin to terrorism. It prompted the student leaders to withdraw the statement, apologise and resign.

Cheung, Yung and Kwok were taken from their homes by police last August, while Todorovski went to the police station himself.

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Lea Mok is a multimedia reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously contributed to StandNews, The Initium, MingPao and others. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.