The sedition trial against Hong Kong independent news outlet Stand News, which began last October and was supposed to last 20 days, has moved on to the last seven allegedly “seditious” articles on the 40th day of court hearing.
At the end of Tuesday’s hearing, however, the prosecution said they were set to hand in further additional materials. Although 17 articles were admitted as evidence of alleged sedition at the outset of the trial, several more have been submitted as exhibits by the prosecution.
Chung Pui-kuen, the former chief editor of Stand News whose questioning began on February 14, told the prosecution he was unable to keep up and read through all the exhibits that had been submitted.
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.
Chung, former acting chief editor Patrick Lam and Stand News’ parent company stand accused of conspiring to publish “seditious publications” under the colonial-era law. During previous court sessions, Chung has been repeatedly asked to read through over 500 Stand News articles archived by the police, as well as other supplementary references.
Lead prosecutor Laura Ng on Tuesday continued questioning Chung about an op-ed written by veteran journalist Allan Au that referenced the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, a book that judge Kwok Wai-kin said last week he had never heard of.
Ng asked Chung whether Au was implying the Chinese Communist Party was the tyrannous totalitarian system, like in Orwell’s novel, adding that 1984 “also happened to be the year the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed.” The declaration was a treaty that laid out the conditions of Hong Kong’s Handover from British to Chinese rule.
“Do you agree that Au does not trust the Communist Party, the One Country, Two Systems model of governance, and the national security law?” Ng asked the former editor-in-chief.
Chung said he was not in the position to judge.
“You have known the man for a long time, and you still don’t know what he distrusts?” Ng asked again. Au, the author of the commentary, was sitting in the public gallery. He was arrested last April over allegedly conspiring to publish seditious materials but was released on bail and is yet to be charged.
“In my opinion, Au was trying to remind us what a totalitarian society would be like by making reference to the novel in his article… Does it necessarily mean he was saying that the Chinese Communist Party was the tyrant? Judging from this article, I don’t think I would reach the same conclusion you did,” Chung said.
When the prosecution finished questioning Chung about Au’s articles, Kwok, one of the city’s designated national security judges, asked if Au had completed a law degree or had read relevant judgements before commenting on the appointment of national security judges in one of his op-eds.
“If the High Court did not consider appointing judges a problem, why didn’t Au mention that?” Kwok asked.
Chung told Kwok he did not know if Au had read anything beforehand. “But I don’t think a commentator has to read through certain documents before making comments… unless you’re talking about the quality of his comments, but that should also be left for the public to judge.”
The former editor-in-chief added that he did not see Au’s point of view as groundless.
The prosecutor later moved on to articles and op-eds about or by Nathan Law, Ted Hui, Baggio Leung and Sunny Cheung – all of whom had left Hong Kong.
Ng asked Chung how his employees had reached these figures, as they were supposed to be keeping a low profile after going into self-exile. Chung replied that the reporters had used usual methods to reach these politicians. “It was like queueing up with other news outlets, we waited for them to reply,” he said.
Ng said accepting Stand News’ invitation to be interviewed proved that the politicians trusted the outlet, adding that the news platform had published all four articles within the same month. “What a coincidence,” she said.
Chung agreed, adding that mutual trust was crucial when conducting an interview, and the time of publishing all four articles clashed partly because one of the reporters could not meet their deadline.
The trial will continue on Wednesday.
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.
Advocacy groups, the UN, and western countries criticised the arrests as a sign of declining media freedoms, while 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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