Hong Kong courts made their second conviction under national security laws on Monday, ruling that a man incited secession by using protest slogans in public.
The defendant Ma Chun-man, 30, was convicted in District Court over repeated non-violent acts of chanting slogans, displaying placards and speaking publicly in support of Hong Kong independence last year.
Ma “continuously and unreservedly” incited others to do what was prohibited under the national security law, using slogans such as “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times”, “One nation, one Hong Kong” and “Hong Kong independence, the only way out”, District Judge Stanley Chan ruled.
“The defendant’s words were not empty talk, but a sincere and heartfelt expression of his beliefs and feelings,” said Chan, who is among a list of judges hand-picked by Hong Kong’s leader to oversee national security cases.
Ma was on trial for what he said in 20 incidents between August 15 and November 22 last year. His case involved no violence, unlike Hong Kong’s previous national security trial, which wrapped up in July with the defendant, Tong Ying-kit, also found guilty of inciting secession, on top of terrorism for riding his motorcycle into a group of policemen.
Early this month, defence lawyers for Ma argued that their client was only trying to test the national security law to show free speech was still protected. He did not seriously intend to incite others to commit secession and had no concrete plan to bring about Hong Kong independence, they added.
Chan rejected that argument as “self-serving” and not in accordance with the facts, adding that he did not understand why Ma would need to test the law in order to prove anything.
“The defendant emphasised and relied on the rights guaranteed by the Basic Law, but clearly ignored the major principle enshrined in Basic Law Article 1, namely that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China,” the judge said.
Ma advocated his beliefs like a “record player” on multiple occasions and was not acting on the spur of the moment, Chan said. It was legally irrelevant whether other people were successfully incited by the defendant, he added.
Dressed in an oversized grey sweater, Ma nodded to his supporters as he was led away after the verdict. He had pleaded not guilty at the start of the trial but did not personally testify.
The judge will hear mitigation arguments on November 11. The offence of inciting secession carries a jail term of up to 10 years, but prison sentences are capped at seven years at the District Court.
Ma used to be a regular presence at protests, and was nicknamed “Captain America 2.0” due to his choice of outfit. His lawyers previously said in court that his pro-independence chants were usually ignored and he had attracted no followers.
Hong Kong police have arrested more than 150 people under the national security law since Beijing put it into effect in June last year. Around half of those people — including former lawmakers, activists, journalists and students — have been formally charged.
By Holmes Chan