Proceedings against former editors of independent outlet Stand News have been “unfair” and “not transparent,” the defence argued on Tuesday, as the court sought to rule on whether the discovery of previously undisclosed evidence was grounds to terminate the trial.
Chung Pui-kuen and Patrick Lam, former chief editors of the shuttered media outlet, appeared before Judge Kwok Wai-kin at District Court on Wednesday. Both were detained last December on suspicion of conspiring to distribute seditious publications. Chung was granted bail on Tuesday, and Lam was granted bail last month.
The Stand News sedition trial – which began on October 31 and was scheduled to last for 20 days – was halted after it was revealed during a witness testimony that the police had archived hundreds more articles than those provided by the prosecution to the defence as evidence. Consequently, the defence applied for a permanent stay of proceedings to terminate the trial.
As the stay hearing continued on Wednesday, defence counsel David Ma said that court proceedings had been “unfair” and “not transparent” in light of these revelations.
Ma added that since the website of the media outlet went dark shortly after its top editors and board members were arrested, the defence had been unable to retrieve any Stand News’ articles which could have helped support their case.
Calling the prosecution’s act an “abuse of process,” Ma said that the prosecution must pass all the unused materials to the defence according to the prosecution code.
However, the lead prosecutor Laura Ng said that the late disclosure of material was harmful to the prosecution’s case too. “We could have admitted more articles as evidence to strengthen our case, but now it’s too late,” she said.
When Ng suggested that the she might present all 587 new articles to the court as evidence, Kwok said that it would be exhausting to read through the material. “But it’s not a matter of whether it’s exhausting, I’ll do it if it’s necessary,” he added.
‘Subjectively selected’ articles
The prosecution summoned two police officers from the national security department on Tuesday and Wednesday to testify over their decision not to hand over archived articles to the investigation team and the prosecution.
One, a senior inspector with the surname Lo, said that a total of five police officers in the national security department had been responsible for archiving articles for the Stand News case since June 2021, including Lo and his superior Chan.
They were ordered to take screenshots of articles published by the outlet after a superintendent learned from a source that Stand News was set to take down some of their articles in June 2021. Chan, Lo, and their subordinates then started taking screenshots of Stand News articles, the court heard.
A total of 587 articles were later selected and considered to be in suspicion of violating the sedition law. The officers said they had forgotten the exact number of articles they took screenshots of.
The officers said they did not have a criteria of which topics or names covered in the articles would be considered as potentially violating the sedition law or the national security law.
“It was our subjective decision, everyone could have a different opinion on which articles were illegal,” Lo said, while also rejecting the possibility of handing in all articles to the investigation team for reference. “It was our duty to select potentially illegal articles, not just pass all of them over to other teams,” he said.
Chan, on the other hand, said they “had not thought about [giving all archived articles to other teams] at the time.”
Wong, Chan and Lo selected 30 articles from the 587 articles to be sent to the team that responsible for investigating Stand News. Both the prosecution and the defence said they had not previously been informed of the existence of the other 557 archived articles.
The hearing of the stay of proceedings application will continue next Monday.
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.