In March, Hong Kong police imposed strict rules on public procession as the city saw a protest against a government policy for the first time in at least years. The authorities made several high-profile arrests under the national security law, while a veteran democrat was sent back to prison pending trial after he was said to have breached bail terms. Closely-watched trials involving 47 democracy advocates and former Stand News editors, respectively, continued.

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

New rules for demo

Hong Kong saw its first protest against a government policy in about two years in late March, which went ahead under strict rules including a cap on numbers and a requirement that everyone wear an identifying number tag.

There were few public processions against official policy in the city following the enactment of the national security law in June 2020 and the implementation of Covid-19 social-distancing measures.

Police demanded organisers of the march against a land reclamation plan in Tseung Kwan O to limit the number of participants at 100. Those joining the procession were asked to wear number tags around their necks, while officers surrounded the group with a cordon. Journalists were separated from the marchers.

Protest organiser Cyrus Chan said the Force reviewed banners and placards for “politically sensitive and seditious words.”

Police said “comprehensive” risk assessments were conducted on public events based on their “purpose, nature, number of participants, past experience and latest developments”.

Albert Ho’s bail revoked

Veteran democrat and rights activist Albert Ho, who is set to stand trial under the national security law, was remanded into custody on March 22 after a magistrate ruled that he had breached his bail terms.

The revocation of bail came after the former Democratic Party chairman was apprehended by national security police. Sources told local media that the arrest was over allegedly interfering with witnesses.

Former pro-democracy lawmaker Albert Ho brought away by national security police from his home on March 21, 2023.
Former pro-democracy lawmaker Albert Ho brought away by national security police from his home on March 21, 2023. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

The 71-year-old  stands accused of inciting subversion along with the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China and two more of the group’s former leaders. He was granted bail in August last year.

The conditions imposed on Ho under the security law’s stringent threshold for bail included a cash bail of HK$700,000 and a surety of HK$400,000. He was also prohibited from doing any act or making any speech that could be deemed as violating the security legislation.

He was also barred from directly or indirectly contacting any foreign officials or their staff members.

The United Nations called on Hong Kong authorities to release Ho and let him “continue his urgent medical care.”

High-profile detentions

Veteran labour rights’ activist Elizabeth Tang, former chief executive of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, was arrested for allegedly colluding with foreign forces. Tang was arrested outside Stanley Prison after visiting her husband Lee Cheuk-yan, a co-defendant of Albert Ho.

Elizabeth Tang
Elizabeth Tang, ex-chief executive of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, released on police bail at the police headquarters in Wan Chai on March 11, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Ho’s brother, solicitor Frederick Ho, and Tang’s sister Marilyn Tang, were arrested after they were accused of removing evidence from Elizabeth Tang’s home.

The trio were granted bail.

Police question ex-members of labour group

Four former members of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) – the city’s largest pro-democracy labour group before it disbanded in 2021 – were taken by national security police to assist an investigation last month.

HKCTU Vice-chairperson Leo Tang. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Among them was Leo Tang, the former vice-chairperson of the HKCTU.

He told HKFP that it was not an arrest and he could not give further details due to confidentiality terms under the national security law. The police reportedly took their phones and computers. The four were released later.

2 men arrested over allegedly possessing seditious publications

Hong Kong police arrested two men, aged 38 and 50, for allegedly possessing several publications that were capable of “inciting hatred or contempt against the Central government, the Hong Kong government and Hong Kong judiciary.”

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Three children’s books were found as seditious by court in a high-profile trial in 2022. Photo: Screenshot.

The publications in question were also capable of inciting others to use violence or disobey the law, they said, adding that they were related to a completed sedition trial.

Sing Tao and HK01 cited sources that the publications were children’s books about sheep and wolves that were found to be seditious in a high-profile trial last year.

Trio jailed for up to 10 months over ‘seditious’ book

Three people were jailed for five to 10 months after they pleaded guilty to selling copies of a “seditious book” at a Lunar New Year fair.

Alan Keung, known as “Pastor Keung,” who founded independent outlet Free HK Media, was sentenced to eight months behind bars by Principal Magistrate Peter Law under the colonial-era sedition law.

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

Earlier in March, the 31-year-old and his co-defendants Alex Lee, 52, and Cannis Chan, 48, admitted to 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.

Lee, who was said to be the owner of the booth, was handed a prison term of five months. His wife Chan, on the other hand, was jailed for 10 months, the longest among the trio.

Ex-cop jailed over ‘seditious’ posts about death of marine officer

Former Hong Kong police officer Chui Chun-man was sentenced to 10 months in jail after he was convicted under the colonial-era sedition law in connection with social media posts about the death of a marine officer.

He was arrested and charged after he posted comments on the police Facebook page and his own page about the death of Marine officer Lam Yuen-yee in September 2021. Chui resigned from the Force two months later in November that year.

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Marine officer Lam Yuen-yee’s funeral. Photo: i-Cable screenshot.

Lam died during a law enforcement operation against suspected smuggling. The speedboat carrying Lam capsized after colliding with a vessel carrying suspected smugglers. Her body was found on September 27, 2021.

Chui left comments on the police Facebook page including “the marine female officer should be dead,” and shared articles about Lam on his own social media page, according to the prosecution.

Woman denied bail over ‘seditious’ online posts

Hong Kong woman Law Oi-wa, 48, was denied bail under the sedition law after she was charged with “doing an act or acts with seditious intention” in connection with posts on Facebook and Twitter. 

Local media outlets reported that the content included the popular 2019 protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times” and pro-independence chants, as well as an image of Hong Kong’s flag in black and white – known as the “black bauhinia” flag.

Among the posts was also reportedly a reference to protest song Glory to Hong Kong as the city’s “national anthem.”

47 democrats trial continues

The trial of a landmark national security case involving 47 pro-democracy figures continued in March. Former lawmaker Au Nok-hin, one of the 31 defendants who has pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit subversion, completed his testimony for the prosecution.

Ex-district councillor Andrew Chiu was summoned to the witness stand on March 29 as the second accomplice witness to testify against his peers. He accused legal scholar Benny Tai, who was the leader of the 2014 Occupy Central movement, of intending to “politicise” the work of district councils and promote his ideology of using the constitution to resist the government.

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(Front row, from left to right) Au Nok-hin, Benny Tai and Andrew Chiu at a press conference on June 9, 2020 about the pro-democracy camp’s plan to seek more than 35 seats in the Legislative Council. Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

Chiu suggested that following a landslide victory in the 2019 District Council election, some members of the pro-democracy camp hoped to “ride on” public discontent triggered by the extradition bill and seek majority control in the legislature.

Local prosecutors named uncharged “co-conspirators” in the case surrounding an unofficial legislative primary election held in July 2020. They included former Kwun Tong District Council chairman Choy Chak-hung and Luke Lai, who was the chief officer of defunct political group Power for Democracy.

A total of 16 democrats are currently facing a no-jury trial after they denied the charge. They could face up to life behind bars if convicted.

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As of the end of March, the lengthy trial, expected to last 90 days, had passed the one-third mark. The prosecution revealed earlier that they would call upon two more defendants – former district councillor Ben Chung and founder of retail chain AbouThai Mike Lam – as their witnesses. Two police officers are also expected to give statements as expert witnesses on the operation of Facebook and YouTube.

Stand News trial

Another closely-watched trial involving two former top editors of shuttered independent media outlet Stand News saw the prosecution concluding its questioning of one of the defendants after 26 days.

Lead prosecutor Laura Ng finished grilling Chung Pui-kuen, Stand News’ ex-chief editor, in late March, when the trial – which began last October and was initially estimated to last for 20 days – entered its 47th day. 

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Chung Pui-kuen photographed on December 13, 2022, when he was granted bail after spending almost a year in custody pending trial. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

The 53-year-old stands accused of conspiring to publish “seditious” publications, along with Stand News’ former acting chief editor Patrick Lam and the outlet’s parent company.

A journalist from local Chinese newspaper Ming Pao was reportedly pushed by a police officer outside the District Court where the Stand News trial took place. The reporter was said to be filming prosecutor Ng as she was leaving the courthouse in Wan Chai.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) urged the police to “maintain professionalism,” while the Force said they deployed “appropriate manpower” to maintain order at the District Court and would remind their personnel to “pay attention to personal conduct.”

Separately, HKJA received reports from several journalists that two men had attempted to follow them after the Stand News trial on March 21. The reports came as an HKFP court reporter was tailed from her home to her office for over an hour by two men with earpieces.

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Some journalists speculated that the men were plainclothes law enforcement officers “based on their behaviour and outfits,” the press group said.

Police responded by issuing an open letter to HKJA to express “deep regret and strong discontent” over the “unverified speculations.” Such claims harmed the reputation of all law enforcement officers and tarnished the professional image of journalists of reporting based on facts, police wrote.

Tiananmen vigil group activists file appeal 

Chow Hang-tung, Tang Ngok-kwan, and Tsui Hon-kwong, who were former leaders of the group which once organised Hong Kong’s annual mass Tiananmen vigils, filed an appeal against conviction and sentence for refusing to comply with a data demand from national security police.

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Chow Hang-tung. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The trio were sentenced to four-and-a-half months in jail earlier in March by Principal Magistrate Peter Law after they were convicted of  failing to comply with a notice from national security police demanding information.

Tang and Tsui were granted bail pending appeal, while Chow, the former vice-chairperson of the Alliance, rejected bail “on grounds of freedom of expression.”

Martial arts coach seeks to appeal jail term

Hong Kong martial arts coach Denis Wong filed an appeal against his five-year jail term under the national security law, after he was sentenced last month by District Judge Ernest Lin for inciting subversion and possessing arms without a licence.

Arrested last March under the colonial-era sedition law, Wong’s charge was upgraded to incitement to subversion last September.

The maximum penalty of incitement to subversion is 10 years’ imprisonment, however, sentences handed down at the District Court are capped at seven years.

Mask ban remains in place

Secretary for Security Chris Tang told lawmakers last month that it was necessary to retain the mask ban introduced during the extradition bill protests of 2019, as national security concerns remain in the city.

Hong Kong was one of the last places in the world to scrap its Covid-19 mask mandate, with the requirement lifted on March 1. It prompted questions over whether people would be seen as breaching the law if they wore face coverings at lawful rallies, as the anti-mask law remains in place.

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Hong Kong protesters wear masks during the extradition bill protests in 2019. File photo: Jimmy Lam, Benjamin Yuen/United Social Press.

Tang faced questions from the sole self-proclaimed non-pro-establishment lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen, who said the current social circumstances was “very different” compared to 2019 and suggested the authorities to clarify under what circumstances wearing masks would be allowed at an assembly

In response, the security chief said the government has to prepare for the worst and “nip national security crimes in the bud.” Examples of national security threats over the past year included “seditious” online comments and ammunition found inside a residential apartment last year.

Women’s group cancels rally

The Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association cancelled a police-approved protest the night before it was scheduled to be held. The march would have been one of the first of its kind following the outbreak of Covid-19 in the city over three years ago.

The announcement was made on the association’s Facebook page, but the group did not give any reason behind the protest’s cancellation.

Hong Kong Women Workers' Association
Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association. Photo: Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association, via Facebook.

Police said that the authorities approved the association’s application to hold the rally, after conducting risk assessment. The association decided to cancel the protest “after balancing the interests of all parties,” said Cheng Wai-kin, acting senior superintendent of the police.

Cheng did not give answers to questions over whether the cancellation was linked to the start of the Chinese parliamentary “Two Sessions” meetings in Beijing.

Requirements for aspiring principals

Hong Kong’s Education Bureau overhauled its list of attributes for aspiring school principals to include possessing a “sense of national identity” and safeguarding the “dignity of the education profession.”

The circular also saw the redaction of some attributes – among them possessing “political astuteness,” determination to “protect the best interest of school members” and “resourcefulness and decisiveness” when working with a team.

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Primary school students in Hong Kong. File photo: GovHK.

The list of desired qualities is part of the Education Bureau’s “preparation for principalship course,” which aspiring school principals must take in order to work at most local schools. The course “helps aspiring principals understand the values, knowledge, skills and attributes required of school principals,” according to the Bureau.

The last time the list of attributes was updated was in February 2019.

Arrest and prosecution tally

As of March 17, 249 people had been arrested over suspected acts and activities that endangered national security since the legislation was enacted on June 30, 2020, the Security Bureau told HKFP. Among those, 149 people and five companies have been charged.

According to the Bureau, 67 people have been convicted or are awaiting sentencing; among them 29 have been convicted or awaiting sentencing under the Beijing-imposed law. It did not specify the offences committed by the remaining 42 defendants.

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Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.