A Portuguese national, who allegedly managed social media accounts for the Hong Kong Independence Party, has been ordered to remain in custody pending trial under the Beijing-enacted national security law.

National security
A national security billboard. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Joseph John, also known as Wong Kin-chung, was denied bail at the District Court on Tuesday, after judge Stanley Chan ruled that there were insufficient grounds for believing that the 41-year-old would not continue to commit acts endangering national security if bail was granted.

His previous attempt to seek bail at a lower court was also unsuccessful.

John stands accused of conspiring to incite others to organise, plan, commit or participate in acts, whether or not by force or threat of force, with a view to committing secession or undermining national unification.

The alleged acts included separating the HKSAR from the People’s Republic of China, altering the city’s legal status by unlawful means and surrendering the HKSAR or any other part of China to a foreign country.

He was originally prosecuted under the colonial-era sedition which warrants up to two years of imprisonment for a first conviction. But his charge was upgraded earlier this month when prosecutors accused him of breaching the sweeping security legislation.

District Court
District Court. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Although the more serious offence is punishable by up to 10 years in jail, prison sentences meted out by the District Court are capped at seven years.

Bail applications in national security cases have to go through a stricter assessment. Judges consider not only the defendant’s risk of absconding or obstructing justice, but also whether there are sufficient grounds for believing they “will not continue to commit acts endangering national security.”

💡Under court reporting restrictions on bail proceedings, written and broadcast reports are limited to only include the result of a bail application, the name of the person applying for bail and their representation, and the offence concerned.

Tuesday’s hearing marked the first time John had appeared at District Court after his case was transferred from West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts. The case was adjourned to June 1 for the defence to examine documents and give legal advice.

Judge Chan said he hoped by the time the case was next mentioned in June, both the defence and prosecution would have a clearer stance on whether a trial was needed.

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.