The sedition trial against defunct Hong Kong independent outlet Stand News was adjourned until Thursday afternoon after the prosecution found issue with the time frame being referred to by the defence.
Chung Pui-kuen, Stand News’ former chief editor, and Patrick Lam, the outlet’s former acting chief editor, appeared before Judge Kwok Wai-kin in the District Court on Monday. Both stand accused – along with the outlet’s parent company Best Pencil Limited – of conspiring to publish “seditious” articles from 2020 to 2021.
Giving his testimony last week, Chung told the court about his views on the 2019 protests and unrest, saying that Hongkongers were calling for democracy and freedom, not values related to economy or welfare.
Explaining the context behind 17 articles that have been accepted as evidence in the trial, Chung said: “You can see how Hongkongers were afraid of losing freedom.”
List of the 17 selected articles – Click to see
- Profile of Gwyneth Ho, a candidate in the 2020 legislative primaries held by the pro-democracy camp, published on July 7, 2020.
- Profile of Owen Chow, a candidate in the 2020 legislative primaries held by the pro-democracy camp, published on July 27, 2020.
- Profile of Fergus Leung, a candidate in the 2020 legislative primaries held by the pro-democracy camp, published on August 12, 2020.
- Commentary by Chan Pui-man, Apple Daily’s former associate publisher, criticising speech crimes, published on September 12, 2020.
- Commentary by Nathan Law, a former lawmaker now in self-exile, on “how to resist” under the national security law, published on September 20, 2020.
- Profile of Law on his “battlefront” of calling for sanctions on the Hong Kong government in the UK, published on December 9, 2020.
- Commentary by Law on “resilience in a chaotic world,” published on December 13, 2020.
- Feature interview with Ted Hui, a former lawmaker in self-exile, after he fled Hong Kong with his family, published on December 14, 2020.
- Feature interview with Baggio Leung, a former lawmaker in self-exile, as he called for sanctions on Hong Kong and a “lifeboat scheme for Hongkongers,” published on December 15, 2020.
- Commentary by Sunny Cheung, an activist in self-exile, responding to being wanted by the Hong Kong government, published on December 28, 2020.
- Commentary by Allan Au, a veteran journalist, on “new words in 2020,” which included “national security,” “disqualified” and “in exile,” published on December 29, 2020.
- Commentary by Au calling a national security trial a show, published on February 3, 2021.
- Commentary by Law paralleling the mass arrests of candidates in the democrats’ primaries to mass arrests during Taiwan’s white terror period, published on March 2, 2021.
- Commentary by Au accusing the authorities of “lawfare” in usage of the sedition law, published on June 1, 2021.
- Commentary by Au describing Hong Kong as a disaster scene after the implementation of national security law, published on June 22, 2021.
- Feature about CUHK graduates’ march on campus to mourn the second anniversary of the police-student clash in 2019, published on November 11, 2021.
- Report on Chow Hang-tung’s response to being honoured with the Prominent Chinese Democracy Activist award, published on December 5, 2021.
After hearing Chung’s testimony, lead prosecutor Laura Ng said on Monday that she did not intend to start her round of questioning because of the differences in the contextual time frames being discussed by the defence and the prosecution.
Ng proposed further discussing the trial timetable on Thursday, and requested more days to be scheduled for the trial.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” defence counsel Audrey Eu said, in response to Ng’s proposal. She said that although both defendants were on bail, they were unable to work during the trial. Furthermore, it was not ideal for the case to be adjourned too many times, especially with another long holiday coming up. The Lunar New Year will begin on Sunday, followed by three days of public holidays.
The trial was initially scheduled to begin on October 31 last year and last for 20 days. However, the trial was halted after it was discovered that over 500 Stand News’ articles had been archived by national security police, leading to an application by the defence to terminate the trial – which was later rejected.
Kwok approved the prosecution’s request to adjourn, but asked Ng to prepare for her round of questioning on Thursday.
‘Confidence’ in Stand News
Before Eu finished her round of questioning with Chung on Monday morning, Chung told the court he believed the interviewees of the 17 articles, including candidates of the 2020 democrats’ primary – 47 of whom have since been charged under the national security law – did not intend to incite anyone.
“I believe they, as political figures, sincerely believed what they said in the articles. As a media outlet, we did not have any seditious intent, either… Yet, we could not ignore their political stances just because they could be illegal. That is not what the media should do,” Chung said.
When asked if Stand News had “glorified” or “demonised” figures in its reports, Chung said the outlet had been ranked Hong Kong’s third-most credible news outlet in research conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2019, adding that lawmakers like Priscilla Leung and Regina Yip were willing to answer their enquiries despite the outlet’s short history.
“I believe it’s because they had confidence that we wouldn’t distort their replies,” he said.
Judge Kwok last week asked whether an op-ed on “10 steps to mutual destruction” by scholar and activist Benny Tai should be taken into consideration in the trial. Like many of the articles accepted as evidence, Tai’s was related to the 47 arrested democrats.
Eu, however, said the shuttered news outlet had never published the piece or any news write-up related to it, and the trial should focus instead on the existing 17 articles admitted as evidence.
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. They were both granted bail after being held in custody for nearly a year.