August 14, 2022


Let'S Talk Law

Free speech or secession? “Liberate Hong Kong” at coronary heart of landmark situation

Police officers escort a jail van which is carrying Tong Ying-kit, the very first person billed below the new countrywide stability regulation, as he leaves West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts, in Hong Kong, China July 6, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

  • Debate in excess of “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our Occasions” slogan
  • Defendant is to start with individual charged underneath new stability legislation
  • Ruling will formalise lawful limit on permissible free speech
  • Verdict in landmark safety trial on Tuesday at 0700 GMT

HONG KONG, July 25 (Reuters) – Three Hong Kong judges will rule on Tuesday regardless of whether the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our Moments” is a connect with for secession when they produce a verdict on fees towards a male arrested at a demonstration final 12 months.

The landmark ruling could have prolonged-time period implications for how a countrywide safety legislation that China imposed on its freest city a yr ago versus secession, terrorism, subversion and collusion with international forces reshapes its common law traditions, some lawful students say.

Activists say a ruling to outlaw the slogan will tighten limits on free of charge speech.

The slogan was chanted throughout professional-democracy protests, posted on the net, scrawled on walls and printed on every little thing from pamphlets, textbooks, stickers and T-shirts to espresso mugs.

Throughout the 15-working day demo of 24-calendar year-old waiter Tong Ying-package, the courtroom read how he rode a motorcycle, carrying a black flag bearing the slogan into quite a few riot police in central Hong Kong on July 1 last year.

Tong was the to start with human being billed beneath the countrywide security law.

Direct governing administration prosecutor Anthony Chau argued in court that this was a terrorist act, and that Tong had sought to incite folks to secession, both “grave” offences underneath the safety law that could bring jail terms of a number of many years to life, if convicted.

Tong has pleaded not responsible to fees of terrorism, incitement to dedicate secession and unsafe driving leading to grievous bodily hurt. Chau did not react to requests for comment. Defence barrister Clive Grossman declined to remark.

A cornerstone of the trial has been the prosecution’s argument that slogan “connotes Hong Kong independence” – a posture unacceptable to China, which considers the fiscal hub and former British colony an “inalienable” aspect of its territory.

During the protests that commenced in 2019 and paralysed the city, tens of millions took to the streets to oppose a perceived clampdown by China’s Communist Party leaders on the city’s constitutionally enshrined freedoms. The slogan was ubiquitous.

When Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997, China’s Communist Celebration management pledged to make it possible for the town to sustain its judicial program and retain a vast diploma of autonomy and freedoms as aspect of a binding deal with Britain.

Critics say those people freedoms are remaining trampled, an assertion authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong reject.


In the courtroom hearing, the meaning of the slogan was fiercely debated in exchanges that drew on eclectic references to Chinese emperors, Marxism-Leninism, the ancient Chinese poet Li Bai, Malcolm X, rampaging Mongol barbarians, and previous nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek.

The prosecution explained to the court docket the slogan was coined in 2016 by Hong Kong activist Edward Leung, a effectively-recognized advocate for Hong Kong independence. Leung is serving a six-calendar year jail time period for rioting and could not be achieved for remark. There was no rapid comment from two attorneys who represented him.

An pro witness for the prosecution, history professor Lau Chi-pang, testified that the to start with part of the Chinese slogan, translated as “liberate”, or “reclaim”, experienced been employed through Chinese history from the Qin to the Qing dynasties, and that the this means, to get better lost territory or to expel an enemy “has not improved all over a thousand yrs”.

Lau advised the courtroom the words in the slogan, taken by itself, or separately, could have but a person this means: “They associated to separating the Hong Kong Particular Administrative Region from the People’s Republic of China.”

Lau also referred to a rally on July 21, 2019, when protesters, who chanted the slogan, weakened a nationwide emblem outdoors China’s consultant Liaison Business office in Hong Kong. The carry out and use of the slogan that day experienced “the goal of rejecting the governance of the People’s Republic of China”, the prosecution told the court docket.

Lau declined to remark.

Tong declined to stand as a witness. The defence named two academics, political science professor Eliza Lee and Francis Lee, a professor and expert in political communication. They are not associated.

In a report drawing on hundreds of interviews with protesters on website and above the mobile phone, as properly as a statistical evaluation of far more than 25 million online posts, Francis Lee reported there was “no considerable linkage” or correlation among the slogan and independence, as managed by Lau.

“The topic slogan was comprehended, definitely, by many individuals in quite a few distinct ways,” Francis Lee instructed the courtroom.

Eliza Lee informed the courtroom the slogan was intended to “unite independence-loving people of all ages”. She recognized, even so, that it could have pro-independence connotations to some people today.

Eliza Lee did not react to a request for remark. Francis Lee declined to remark.

At one particular issue prosecutor Chau sought to attract parallels involving Edward Leung and the U.S. civil legal rights chief Malcolm X, inquiring Eliza Lee regardless of whether she would take into account him to be a separatist?

“How much do we need to venture into the challenging background of racial segregation in buy to realize this,” Lee answered, prior to a person decide, Anthea Pang, interjected.

“Irrespective of whether Malcolm X was or could be regarded as a secessionist or separatist is a dilemma significantly considerably removed from the concerns presented in entrance of the court.”

In his closing speech on Tuesday, Grossman said protesters worldwide typically held up indicators with out going through prosecution, and that Tong must be acquitted if the meaning of the slogan was open up-finished.

Grossman explained Lau experienced an “untenable, rigid, mechanical view of historical past” that paid out no heed to rhetoric, and the meaning of the slogan could not be pinned down as Lau was seeking to do.

Pang reported the court would contemplate regardless of whether the “organic and fair result” of the slogan could indeed incite others to secession, as well as Tong’s felony intent, in creating its ruling.

Reporting by James Pomfret
Editing by Robert Birsel

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