A Hong Kong activist was sentenced to jail for shouting political slogans for the first time. Legal experts warned that this decision could lead to more prosecutions and increase restrictions on freedom of speech in this Asian financial center.
Ma Chun-man, a 31-year-old former food delivery worker, was found guilty of inciting secession by the local court last month after he chanted “support for independence” during protests in 2020.
On Thursday, under the National Security Law, Ma was sentenced to five years and nine months, which is a comprehensive measure Beijing imposed on the city after the 2019 democracy protests. The law resulted in the arrest of at least 155 people, including journalists, former lawmakers and students.
Critics said that the sentence created a new “red line” under the law, with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. During the trial, Ma argued that he was testing the limits of the rules, not calling for Hong Kong to be independent from China.
“There is no doubt that Jack Ma’s case is about the restriction of freedom of speech. Free speech is a relative right, not an absolute right,” said Lin Feng, deputy dean of the School of Law of City University of Hong Kong. “If you want to follow up on Ma’s case, publicly display and chant the slogan of secession, there will be [a] The possibility of being prosecuted is very high. “
Thomas E. Kellogg, executive director of Georgetown University’s Asian Law Center, said that Ma’s conviction could lead the authorities to adopt a “nearly zero tolerance” approach to dissident voices.
“In view of the safety law [has] Put so many weapons into the hands of the prosecution. .. I think the defense lawyers handling these cases need to develop new strategies,” he said.
After Ma was convicted in October, four elderly people were arrested on suspicion of “seditious intent” under the British colonial laws of the city because they displayed items that the police claimed violated security laws.
According to people familiar with the matter, it includes a foldable display with the slogan “Recover Hong Kong, Revolution of the Times” on it. In the first national security law case this year, this sentence was deemed illegal. Other projects include a banner that says “I want a true universal suffrage.”
The increasing restrictions on civil liberties in Hong Kong have caused the human rights organization Amnesty International to close its office in Hong Kong for nearly 40 years because it is concerned about the safety of its employees.
The first person to be convicted of a national security crime was former waiter Tong Yingjie. He rode a motorcycle into the cordon, holding a banner with the slogan “Recover Hong Kong”, inciting secession and engaging in terrorist activities, and was sentenced to nine years in prison.