The founder of an independent Hong Kong news publication and two others have pleaded guilty to selling a “seditious” book at a Lunar New Year fair.

Case details revealed in court showed that police officers posed as customers before making arrests.

Pastor Keung
Alan Keung Ka-wai, the founder of online outlet Free HK Media. Photo: Free HK Media, via Facebook.

Alan Keung, 31, who founded independent outlet Free HK Media, appeared with Alex Lee, 52, and Cannis Chan, 48, in front of Principal Magistrate Peter Law at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Friday.

All three pleaded guilty to conspiring to “do an act or acts with seditious intention,” Oriental Daily reported.

According to the charge sheet, they were accused of conspiring to promote, sell, or display for sale publications on Facebook, Instagram and at a stall at Ginza Plaza in Mong Kok between December 2, 2022 and January 17 with a seditious intention.

During Friday’s hearing, the prosecution said the book contained accusations that Hong Kong police condoned criminals and triad activities, made up stories, and disregarded the law. It was also cited as saying: “Wo lei fei and the valiant protesters will join forces and will not cut ties.”

“Wo lei fei” was a term commonly used by Hong Kong protesters to refer to people who supported peaceful, rational and non-violent protests.

The prosecution said the 300-page book had no title or information about its author or publisher. It was being sold for more than HK$200.

West Kowloon Law Courts Building.
West Kowloon Law Courts Building. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Law enforcement officers had posed as customers to buy the books last December and arrested the trio in January, when national security police raided a Lunar New Year fair in the Mong Kok shopping mall.

Lee was the owner of the fair booth, while Keung and Chan helped operate the business and greet customers, the prosecution said.

Judge’s concern on unfairness

When reading out the case details, the prosecution also mentioned other goods sold at the defendants’ booth.

They included a T-shirt with the expression, “Corrupt cops, may your whole family die,” a water bottle that said “cooperation between police and triads,” and a musical box that played protest anthem Glory to Hong Kong.

Mong Kok fair raid
The fair at Ginza Market, Mong Kok that was raided by national security police on January 17. Photo: Courtesy of CVRHK.

However, the magistrate said he was concerned it might be “unfair” towards the defendants to list out these other products as the charge they faced was only related to the book.

In response, the prosecutor said mentioning other objects at the booth would help the court understand the context of where the publication in question was sold and the overall image of the stall, which would be related to the defendant’s intentions.

But Law said the court would have to consider the other products when sentencing if the prosecution included them in the case. The government lawyers in the end agreed to remove the related paragraphs and read out the updated case details next Monday.

The three defendants were remanded in custody until Monday’s hearing.

Sedition is not covered by the Beijing-imposed national security law, which targets secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts and mandates up to life imprisonment. Those convicted under the sedition law – last amended in the 1970s when Hong Kong was still a British colony – face a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

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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.