A Hong Kong man has been handed a four-month jail sentence in absentia over social media comments threatening to bomb a national security judge and his family.

High Court
High Court. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Cheung Chi-ho was not present for his sentencing at the High Court on Monday. According to the written judgement, Cheung – who was arrested in March 2021 – appeared to have absconded on bail and left the city via the airport on September 2021.

He was found guilty of breaching a court injunction that sought to prevent incitement of injury or harm to judicial officers. The injunction came into effect in October 2019, when Hong Kong was engulfed in citywide protests and unrest relating to a controversial extradition law.

The case centres around two comments Cheung made in December 2020, two days after media reported widely that the Chief Magistrate’s Office – headed by Victor So, a national security judge – had received a phone call in which the caller threatened to kill the chief magistrate, his wife and his son with a bomb.

Cheung posted comments in Chinese under Facebook posts about the bomb threat. In a Facebook group, he wrote: “It is useless to talk. Bomb the whole family to death. Then there will be evidence.” On the Facebook page of i-Cable News, Cheung left a comment that read: “There will only be evidence when the whole family is bombed to death.”

facebook app smartphone social media
A Facebook log-in screen. Photo: Pixabay, via Pexels.

High Court judge Russell Coleman said both comments had a similarly broad reach, as they were posted on public platforms and the posts the comments were left on had attracted hundreds of reactions.

Cheung had admitted when arrested that he posted the two comments, albeit out of anger, adding that he had no intention to bomb the magistrate and his family, according to the judgement.

‘Extremely serious’

Coleman wrote in the judgement that the court was concerned not just with Cheung’s subjective intention, but with the “objective potential or likely effect of the words used.”

“The act which the Comments incited was specific and extremely serious, namely the bombing of the Chief Magistrate and his family,” he wrote. “The form of the Comments was to tell people not just to talk, but to take action.”

Coleman 高浩文.jpg
Russell Coleman. Photo: Judiciary.

That the comments were directed also at the wife and child of the Chief Magistrate was an “aggravating factor,” Coleman added.

Cheung never took part in court proceedings, and did not have a lawyer representing him on Monday, according to the judgement.

Coleman said that Cheung had shown no remorse, and instead, appeared “to have deliberately jumped bail and absconded from the jurisdiction to seek to avoid liability.”

Protests erupted in June 2019 over a since-axed extradition bill. They escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment. Demonstrators demanded an independent probe into police conduct, amnesty for those arrested and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.” 

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Hillary Leung is a journalist at Hong Kong Free Press, where she reports on local politics and social issues, and assists with editing. Since joining in late 2021, she has covered the Covid-19 pandemic, political court cases including the 47 democrats national security trial, and challenges faced by minority communities.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Hillary completed her undergraduate degree in journalism and sociology at the University of Hong Kong. She worked at TIME Magazine in 2019, where she wrote about Asia and overnight US news before turning her focus to the protests that began that summer. At Coconuts Hong Kong, she covered general news and wrote features, including about a Black Lives Matter march that drew controversy amid the local pro-democracy movement and two sisters who were born to a domestic worker and lived undocumented for 30 years in Hong Kong.