The prosecutor in the trial of a former Hong Kong editor said Thursday she would cite four articles not previously submitted to the court to examine what his intentions were in publishing allegedly seditious pieces.
Laura Ng made the disclosure as the trial of Stand News’s former chief editor Chung Pui-kuen, acting chief editor Patrick Lam and its parent company continued in front of Judge Kwok Wai-kin at the District Court on Thursday.
The three defendants are charged with conspiring to publish 17 “seditious” articles between July 2020 and December 2021. The four articles which Ng plans to introduce are not part of the charge and also not among almost 600 pieces which the prosecution had previously submitted to the court to support its case.
Ng earlier on Thursday questioned Chung about an op-ed opinion piece written by self-exiled former lawmaker Nathan Law, which forms part of the charge.
The article was published by the online digital outlet on March 2, 2021, a day after 47 prominent democrats first appeared in court accused of conspiracy to commit subversion in the city’s largest national security case.
The prosecutor cited Law’s comment that the 47 were prosecuted even though their plan to veto the budget after winning a 2020 legislative election could never materialise, since the poll was postponed. Ng asked Chung if the author meant that “a group of people who conspired to bomb a plane cannot be charged with the conspiracy if their plan is foiled.”
The editor said he did not know how to answer a “hypothetical legal question.” The prosecutor then told Chung to answer “according to the knowledge of an ordinary citizen,” and Chung responded that he had “totally no idea.”
Ng then asked Chung what Law had meant in stating that the case of the 47 “was not about the law” and that “the Chinese Communist Party blatantly abused its power.” The author was also cited as saying that the national security case was a “manipulatable state-level trial.”
Chung told the court that the ex-lawmaker saw “the entire case as a political trial manipulated by the Beijing authorities, in the end they just use the Hong Kong court to carry out the suppression of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp.”
The editor added while he understood why Law made these accusations, “it does not mean that I agree with his writing and judgements.”
Additionally, Chung said he thought Law’s criticism was within the bounds of free speech and there had been similar comments on different media platforms at that time.
The journalist said he would not consider if an opinion article would mislead any readers when editing it.
“As we are putting freedom of expression into practice and insisting on doing so, we must believe that everyone is an independent and rational individual,” he said.
“To always think of the public as irrational or capable of being easily misled, so that the authorities and elites need to censor thoughts and speeches beforehand – is what I will not accept in my heart,” Chung added.
The prosecutor also asked Chung if he agreed that Law’s accusations that the CCP could “hide the sky with one hand” and that the court “worked with the CCP to carry out a state-level trial” would be the most eye-catching parts of the op-ed.
But Chung said he thought the main takeaway for politically aware readers should be Law’s comparison of the case of the 47 democrats to Taiwan’s Formosa Incident.
Chung said Law’s article would allow readers who knew about Taiwan’s crackdown on pro-democracy activists during its martial law era to draw their own links to and comparisons with the national security case in Hong Kong.
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.
As for readers who did not know about the Taiwan incident, Chung said he expected they would Google it if they were drawn by Law’s piece.
In response, Ng said the practice for op-ed writers to omit details when comparing different subjects was the reason why opinion pieces could be “dangerous.”
Chung said the true danger was when such thoughts by the prosecutor were implemented in government policy or legislation.
“Many commentary articles would not have been published. The room for free speech would have been shrunk to what I thought of as a terrifying stage,” the journalist added.
Ng said Chung must have predicted that Law’s article would at least provoke hatred among some members of the public against the central authorities, the Hong Kong government and the city’s judiciary. Chung denied the prosecutor’s accusation.
‘Counter-evidence’ of Chung’s intention
The prosecutor then cited three Stand News op-eds, in addition to the 17 articles which are the subject of the sedition charge, saying they would show Chung’s intentions in publishing Nathan Law’s piece.
The three opinion pieces – one written by former Stand News reporter Lam Yin-pong and two by veteran journalist Allan Au – were among the 587 articles submitted by the prosecution at the beginning of the trial.
Ng said that as she had told the court before, she would not rely on these three articles as a proof of Chung’s sedition charge, but as a “counter-evidence” to the editor’s stated intentions.
In Lam’s commentary, which was published hours after Nathan Law’s, the writer said the prosecution’s objection to granting the 47 democrats bail was aimed at “putting the regime’s thorn in the side in jail in advance.”
Lam also said the defendants were “abused” during a days-long bail hearing that lasted beyond midnight, and questioned whether the court’s decisions were based on legal grounds.
Ng asked Chung if he published two articles with similar allegations on the same day because he could forecast that they might arouse distrust or hatred against the judiciary. The editor denied any such intention.
The prosecutor added that, while there was similar criticism in other media outlets at the time, the pieces could not be compared to the Stand News articles in question as they did not use “inappropriate wording” as Chung’s outlet did.
Chung denied that the choice of words in Ng’s highlighted articles was at all “radical.”
The editor said Allan Au’s comment that legal authorities “pointed heavy cannons at the court’s gate and insisted on the 47 democrats be jailed before trial” was “a figure of speech that expressed the author’s meanings quite appropriately.”
In addition, Chung said he thinks Au’s comments – that the national security authorities in Hong Kong would “endlessly search for the state’s enemies to prove the importance of their existence” – was based on Au’s knowledge of similar events in other countries, “especially under an authoritarian regime.”
Au had not maliciously created the criticism from nowhere with the intention of inciting hatred, Chung said.
Another 5 articles
Before Thursday’s hearing wrapped up, the prosecutor asked Chung to read five more articles which Stand News published on July 1, 2020, the day after the Beijing-imposed national security law was enacted in the city.
Ng said these articles would be used to examine Chung’s intentions in publishing other “seditious” pieces related to the national security law, when the trial continues on Friday.
While one of the articles was among the 587 previously submitted pieces, the other four were downloaded from the internet, the court was told.
Chung’s barrister Audrey Eu then rose and said she was “strongly opposing” the prosecution’s move. “I cannot tell how many times the prosecution has cited new articles after their case ended, and some of these are not even included in the 587 pieces,” Eu said.
However, Ng said all of these articles had been published by Stand News and Chung “still has time” to read them.
Judge Kwok in the end ruled in favour of the prosecution and told Chung to “take some time to read those articles.”