An elderly busker found guilty of performing in public and raising money without a permit after playing a popular Hong Kong protest song will serve a 30-day jail sentence after retracting his appeal.

Last week, Magistrate Amy Chan convicted Li Jiexin, a 69-year-old retiree, saying his offence amounted to “soft resistance.”

Li Jiexin is interviewed by the press outside the Shatin Magistrates’ Courts on October 24, 2023. Photo: James Lee/HKFP.
Li Jiexin is interviewed by the press outside the Shatin Magistrates’ Courts on October 24, 2023. File photo: James Lee/HKFP.

Li was sentenced to 30 days in prison for four counts of playing a musical instrument in public without a permit and three counts of collecting money in a public place without permission – charges that he pleaded not guilty to in May.

The court heard that Li played an erhu, a traditional Chinese two-stringed instrument, with an amplifier without police approval outside Mong Kok East and Tai Wai MTR stations, and on a footbridge outside Central’s International Finance Centre on four occasions between August 3, 2021, and September 29, 2022.

Li, who represented himself throughout the trial, appeared before Chan at the Sha Tin Magistrates’ Courts on Monday morning. Since his conviction last week, he had written to the court to retract his appeal, according to local media.

The artist page of the team behind 2019 protest song “Glory to Hong Kong” and its related versions on streaming platform Spotify. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
The artist page of the team behind 2019 protest song “Glory to Hong Kong” and its related versions on streaming platform Spotify. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The retiree asked to enter a guilty plea instead on Monday, but Chan said it was already “too late” for him to do so, local media outlet The Witness reported.

Delivering the sentence last week, Chan said Li had played Glory to Hong Kong, a song popularised during the 2019 extradition bill protests and unrest.

The judge said the lyrics of the song contained the phrase “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” a slogan popularised during the protests in 2019 and which was ruled capable of inciting secession during the city’s first national security trial.

Li, who had only played the song’s melody, said in court earlier that he was playing Glory to Carrie Lam, supposedly a parody of the protest song with the same melody.

Ice Hockey Match Hong Kong Iran National anthem blunder
The protest song Glory to Hong Kong was heard instead of China’s Marches of the People during an ice hockey match between Hong Kong and Iran on February 28. Photo: Screenshot, via Hokejaški Savez Bosne i Hercegovine.

Written by protesters, Glory to Hong Kong has been at the centre of repeated incidents at international sporting events, in which the song was played instead of China’s national anthem.

The government said in June it was seeking an injunction to ban the song. The court shot down the attempt in July, but an appeal has been granted and will be heard in December.

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.” 

‘No remorse’

The judge said on Monday that Li “had never felt any remorse” over his offences, citing the retiree’s repeated invocation of the UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as his earlier remarks that he did not mind if he died in jail, according to local media reports.

Li’s wife also sent in a mitigation letter, in which she revealed that she suffered from high blood pressure and that she and her husband relied on each other to take care of themselves, local media reported. Li revealed last week that he had recently undergone heart surgery.

Shatin Magistrates' Courts
Shatin Magistrates’ Courts. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Chan ordered Li to start serving his sentence immediately, and said the Correctional Services Department would arrange medical treatment if he fell ill. The Social Welfare Department would also contact Li’s wife to address her needs, Chan added.

Li said he believed that One Country, Two Systems remained “rock solid,” and that he had never tried to leverage the issue of human rights in Hong Kong to attack the Chinese or local governments, as Western countries had.

“[I’m just a] street performer,” he said, adding that he was standing his ground without harming China or Hong Kong. “I love this nation, and I love Hong Kong.”

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James Lee is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press with an interest in culture and social issues. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in Journalism from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he witnessed the institution’s transformation over the course of the 2019 extradition bill protests and after the passing of the Beijing-imposed security law.

Since joining HKFP in 2023, he has covered local politics, the city’s housing crisis, as well as landmark court cases including the 47 democrats national security trial. He was previously a reporter at The Standard where he interviewed pro-establishment heavyweights and extensively covered the Covid-19 pandemic and Hong Kong’s political overhauls under the national security law.