Hong Kong opposition activist jailed for 40 months after first sedition trial

Hong Kong opposition activist jailed for 40 months after first sedition trial

HONG KONG — A Hong Kong opposition activist was jailed on Wednesday for 40 months after the city's first sedition trial since its handover from British to Chinese rule nearly 25 years ago.

Judge Stanley Chan, who sent him to the District Court for trial of former radio host Tam Tak-chi, said he could not ignore the social-political reality of Hong Kong, given the protracted protests and violence that rocked the city in 2019.

Chan said that the court could not take away the social and political reality as background for sentencing, which also allowed a better understanding of the seriousness of the defendant's crime and its political purpose, and that despite the fact that Tam's offenses took place in the first half of 2020. He sentenced Tam on 11 charges that included seditious words, public disorder and incitement to take part in an unauthorized assembly. Tam was fined HK $5,000 $638 and arrested in July 2020, weeks after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the city.

While the charges were old offenses that pre-dated the new law, his case was dealt with by Judge Chan, part of a new panel selected by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to handle national security cases.

Judge Chan accepted earlier the prosecution's argument that Tam's public use of the protest slogan, popular in 2019, Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times, carried pro-independence connotations.

Tam's defense lawyers said in court that he had long been passionate about politics and social issues and wanted change for society, not his own benefits.

Legal scholars say the colonial-era sedition offense has not been used for decades, but is likely to be used more after the security law is imposed.

After Tam's arrest, other activists have been jailed for sedition offenses.

Western governments and other critics say that the national security law has put freedoms at risk with tough bail provisions and expanded police powers under a legal regime that punishes terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.

After the 2019 protests, Hong Kong and Chinese officials say the law was vital to ensure stability and that prosecutions are not political.

On Wednesday, he said he would appeal, saying my sentencing will affect the freedom of speech of Hongkongers.