A Hong Kong student accused of incitement to expose others to the risk of infection over Instagram posts related to Covid-19 has been cleared of the charge.

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The Instagram app icon. Photo: Brett Jordan/Pexels.

Nischal Gurung, who had posted an Instagram story reading “stay positive” in February 2022, was found not guilty on Thursday, local media reported. Details of the post were not reported by local media.

The Eastern Magistrates’ Court ruled that there while the contents of the post were “suspicious,” the prosecution was unable to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant had an unlawful intent.

During the trial, the defence summoned a linguistics professor from the University of Hong Kong to explain the meaning behind the words.

According to the defence, the posts by Gurung – then 22 – were only asking if publicising results of one’s Covid-19 rapid test had become a “new trend” and calling on people to maintain a positive attitude during the pandemic. The government, it added, had also previously shared similar messages of positivity.

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People wearing face masks in Central. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Gurung had pleaded guilty in August, saying he regretted his actions and had no intention of exposing others to the risk of infection, local media reported. But the magistrate said that if he stated that he had no intention to offend, she could not accept his guilty plea.

The trial was meant to take place last December, but the defence applied for an adjournment as Gurung had yet to find a lawyer due to financial difficulties.

Exposing others to the risk of infection is a crime under Hong Kong’s Prevention and Control of Disease Regulation. Incitement to expose other persons to the risk of infection carries a sentence of up to six months’ imprisonment and a HK$5,000 (US$640) fine, according to local media.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.