Prosecutors in the sedition trial against defunct Hong Kong outlet Stand News have asked one of its former editors whether he believed that supporters of the localist camp were more susceptible to misinformation, as they continued their questioning on Tuesday.
As the sedition trial against shuttered news outlet Stand News continued at District Court on Tuesday, lead prosecutor Laura Ng asked whether the 460,000 people who voted for localist candidates in the unofficial democratic primary election were more susceptible to misinformation.
However, the outlet’s former chief editor Chung Pui-kuen, who stands accused of conspiring to publish “seditious publications,” disagreed with Ng. Chung faces
“I wouldn’t assert that anyone who voted for a particular party is easier to mislead,” Chung said, calling Ng’s inference “simple.”
Ng mentioned a rumour that some people died in Prince Edward station on August 31, 2019, saying that some people had continued to lay flowers at the station to commemorate what became known as the 831 incident.
That evening, riot police stormed the MTR station. During the ensuing chaos, riot police were filmed by journalists rushing into subway carriages and assaulting passengers with batons and pepper spray, leaving many passengers cowering and bleeding.
“These people were on the same end on the political spectrum – they’re susceptible to misinformation… Or are you saying there really were casualties at the Prince Edward station?” Ng asked.
Ng also mentioned the death of protestor Chan Yin-lam – which aroused much speculation – and rumours about potential abuse of protesters detained at San Uk Ling Holding Centre.
Chung said laying flowers at Prince Edward station was a mild gesture to commemorate the event and the unfulfilled political demands of the 2019 protests, rather than an offering of condolences.
Ng repeatedly asked the same question. Chung, frowning as he repeated his answer, said Ng should not assume that supporters of localist candidates were more susceptible to misinformation merely because of the commemoration of the 831 incident.
“You shouldn’t draw an assumption that tens of thousands of people were misled by Stand News either,” he added.
Edward Leung’s ideology
Questioning over Stand News’ profile of now-detained democrat Fergus Leung continued during Thursday’s hearing.
Fergus Leung ran in the unofficial primaries, over which he has been charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under the national security law, along with 46 other prominent pro-democracy figures. The trial of the 16 who pleaded not guilty is currently underway.
The allegedly “seditious” Stand News’ profile of Fergus Leung was published months before his January 2021 arrest.
Ng asked Chung about a young localist politician mentioned by Fergus Leung in the article – Edward Leung, who Fergus Leung said has given hope to Hongkongers.
The prosecutor read out quotes from Fergus Leung: “Therefore, when the localist was disqualified, the leader was detained, and the Hong Kong National Party was banned, I thought to myself: why does such a good political ideology need to be suppressed like this? How can I continue to spread localist concepts?”
She then presented eight news reports on Edward Leung’s political past, including his participation in the 2016 New Territories East by-election and the 2016 Mong Kok civil unrest – over which Edward Leung was jailed for six years for rioting. Ng said Edward Leung’s supporters had reportedly chanted “build Hong Kong as a country” when he lost the 2016 by-election, and the localist politician called himself an advocate of Hong Kong independence.
“Fergus Leung knew what Edward Leung did, and why he was jailed. Yet, Fergus Leung continued to say: why does such a good political ideology need to be suppressed like this?” Ng said.
Chung did not agree. “I don’t think we can interpret this like that,” he said.
Defence Counsel Audrey Eu opposed Ng’s questioning about Edward Leung, saying the prosecutor has been asking unrelated and repeated questions.
“Yesterday was Osama Bin Laden and Putin, today was Edward Leung. I have tried to hold myself back, but your honour, I think there should be a limit,” Eu said.
Judge Kwok Wai-kin told Ng not to ask the same question if Chung had already given his answer.
Ng asked Chung if the author of the profile researched thoroughly beforehand, and if readers without prior knowledge of Edward Leung would be misled by what Fergus Leung said.
“Politicians are not religious leaders, readers have their own minds… If the authorities disapprove every political concept raised by politicians, it would be dangerous as there would be no dissent left,” Chung said.
Ng later asked Chung if he agreed the international community was highly concerned about the democrats’ primaries. Chung said that Western countries were in general concerned about political developments in Hong Kong.
After repeatedly being asked by the prosecutor whether the primaries were under the spotlight internationally, Chung, who appeared tired, said: “I don’t want to get entangled in this matter, I think maybe I’ll just admit what you said.”
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 digital news outlet Stand News ceased operations and deleted its website in December 2021 after its newsroom was raided by over 200 national security police officers. Seven people connected to the independent outlet were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to “publish seditious publications.” However, only ex-chief editor Chung Pui-kuen, acting chief editor Patrick Lam and parent company Best Pencil (Hong Kong) Limited were charged under the colonial-era law.
The 17 allegedly seditious Stand News articles – click to view
- 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.
Advocacy groups, the UN, and western countries criticised the arrests as a sign of declining media freedoms, whilst now-Chief Executive John Lee condemned “bad apples” who “polluted” press freedom following the raids. The trial began in October 2022 with the court considering 17 allegedly seditious articles, including interviews, profiles, hard news reporting and opinion pieces. Sedition is not covered by the Beijing-imposed security law and carries a maximum penalty of two years behind bars.
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