A Hong Kong journalist charged under the colonial-era sedition law has said the city’s authorities should tolerate criticism, even if it is incorrect or not constructive.

Chung Pui-kuen Stand News
Former chief editor of the now-defunct Stand News Chung Pui-kuen appears at the District Court on February 17. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

The questioning of Stand News’ former chief editor Chung Pui-kuen by lead prosecutor Laura Ng continued in front of Judge Kwok Wai-kin at the District Court on Friday, as the sedition trial – which was supposed to last 20 days – entered its 32nd day.

Chung, the independent outlet’s acting chief editor Patrick Lam and Stand News parent company are accused of conspiring to publish “seditious” materials between July 2020 and December 2021.

The prosecution began questioning Chung on 17 Stand News articles that have been admitted as evidence of alleged sedition on Tuesday. On Friday morning, Ng resumed asking about Stand News’ profile of Owen Chow published on July 27, 2020 – one of the 17 articles in question.

Chow is currently undergoing a separate trial featuring 16 prominent democrats who pleaded not guilty to a charge of “conspiring to commit subversion” under the Beijing-imposed national security law for his participation in a primary election in 2020.

As Chow was cited in the profile as saying that he wanted to “oppose the Communists,” Ng asked Chung if it showed that Chow saw China as an enemy.

“If you are not enemies, why do you oppose it?” Ng asked. She also asked if Chow’s quotes could lead readers to resist China or see the country as an enemy, too.

In response, Chung said he agreed that Chow opposed to many of the central government’s measures and its policy on Hong Kong. However, the journalist said he did not think that amounted to “sedition.”

Patrick Lam Stand News
Acting chief editor of the now-defunct Stand News Patrick Lam appears at the District Court on February 17. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

Chung said his own understanding of sedition meant the use of malicious or improper ways to raise hatred of the government. “If a political figure truly stands by their convictions and raises them, I don’t think that’s sedition,” Chung added.

The prosecutor then asked if Chung had “objectively” given Chow a platform to promote his localist ideas, “irrespective of how noble you thought your purpose was.”

Chung said that as a journalist, he did not think about whether he was providing a platform for Chow.

Additionally, the editor said Chow had appeared evasive in the profile and had not suggested any concrete radical actions apart from vetoing government budgets. “Did he receive more or less support [after the interview]? It was hard to say,” Chung added.

However, the journalist agreed that “logically” more people would see Chow’s opinions when the democrat received more interviews.

Reasons behind ‘hatred’

The prosecutor then asked Chung why the profile did not provide readers with reasons behind Chow’s “hostility” and “hatred” towards China and the central authorities.

“If readers knew more about the reasons behind such hatred, wouldn’t that allow them to better understand why he had these political ideas? Isn’t this an obvious approach?” Ng asked.

In response, Chung said at that time Chow had already spoken in a primary election forum and to other media outlets, as well as published his own articles and promotional materials.

The editor added the reasons behind localists’ or young people’s dissatisfaction with the central authorities “to some extent had become common background knowledge in that period of time.”

District Court
Wan Chai Law Courts Building. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Instead, Chung said the possibility of the activist being disqualified in the upcoming legislature election, his political beliefs, future plans and relationship with the milder pro-democracy camp were more important to cover.

The prosecutor asked why Stand News had not asked Chow about his perception of mainland China, citing how the editor said he cared about what young people were thinking.

At this point, Chung’s barrister Audrey Eu stepped in and asked whether the prosecutor meant that if a media outlet reported the reasons behind an interview subject’s hatred for the central authorities, it would not constitute sedition.

Ng said it depended on “how it reports.”

Judge Kwok ruled that the prosecutor’s questions “at least are related to whether the defendant’s statements are credible.”


Chung was also asked how Chow’s profile fitted into the exemptions to the sedition law, as the former chief editor earlier claimed.

The legislation states that any publication that “intends to point out errors or defects” in the government, constitution, legislature or judiciary in Hong Kong with a view to remedying them would not be considered seditious.

However, the prosecutor said she could not find any government mistakes pointed out in Chow’s profile, nor suggestions to improve matters.

In response, Chung said he hope the court would look at the legislation with “maximum tolerance.”

owen chow
Owen Chow. Photo: Owen Chow, via Facebook.

Using political cartoons as an example, Chung said they might not contain any concrete criticism or suggestions but simply “laughter at the ugly performance of officials.”

However, the journalist said the expression of discontent in these illustrations acted to “remind” the government of existing criticism.

Chung said it was the government’s responsibility to reflect and review why these opinions emerged. “If the government can dig into dissenting voices without a biased view, it will certainly find their roots,” he added.

The defendant said this criticism could be wrong. “But even if the words are incorrect, [the speakers] should not be criminally prosecuted or censored,” Chung said.

In addition, Chung said the media has an array of means to exercise its power as the fourth estate, and not every method would provide a clear suggestion on specific policies.

But the editor said “the basic intention of journalism is clear,” and he thought it was tolerated under the sedition law.

Debate on censorship

Chung added that it was not the outlet’s role to censor or judge if Chow’s beliefs were reasonable.

As Chow had won the primary election, Chung said journalists would still have to report on his ideology as the activist was expected to continue to engage in political activities and had a certain level of influence.

The editor said his outlet had also published profiles of pro-establishment figures. “Does that mean we think their views are correct or we agree with them? That is not how it works,” Chung said.

Moreover, Chung said he truly believed that even when a clearly illegal opinion was raised, such as Benny Tai’s call for “civil disobedience” and “achieving justice by violating the law” in 2014, media outlets would still have to report it.

Occupy nine sentencing
Benny Tai. File photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

The journalist said Tai’s beliefs had been widely reported by all outlets at that time and his article calling for action was published in full by some mainstream newspapers.

Chung said Tai’s calls were covered by every outlet because they were related to public interest and would affect everyone in the society. “They need to be discussed,” he added.

“In the journalism sector, when a political figure raises a political belief, the first thing that comes into our mind is whether the public need to know about it,” Chung said.

In response, Ng said she had to make clear the prosecution’s standpoint was that “the public need not know radical or illegal convictions.”

Sedition law

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.

Chung and Lam were the only two charged under the sedition law. They were both detained for almost a year before being released on bail late last year.

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.