A Hong Kong activist was sentenced to jail for chanting political slogans for the primary time, in a choice that authorized specialists warned may result in extra prosecutions and better restrictions on free speech within the Asian monetary hub.
Ma Chun-man, a 31-year-old former meals supply employee, was discovered responsible of inciting secession final month by a neighborhood courtroom for making the chants at a protest in 2020 that had been deemed “pro-independence”.
Ma was sentenced to 5 years and 9 months on Thursday below the national security law, a sweeping measure imposed by Beijing on the town following pro-democracy protests in 2019. The legislation has led to no less than 155 arrests, together with journalists, former lawmakers and college students.
Critics mentioned the sentencing created new “pink traces” below the legislation, which carries a most penalty of life imprisonment. Ma had argued throughout his trial that he was testing the bounds of the rule, fairly than calling for Hong Kong’s independence from China.
“There isn’t any doubt that Ma’s case is in regards to the limits of free speech. Free speech is a relative proper, as a substitute of an absolute proper,” mentioned Lin Feng, affiliate dean of the Metropolis College of Hong Kong’s legislation college. “If Ma’s case had been to be adopted, displaying and chanting secessionist slogans publicly would have [a] excessive likelihood of being prosecuted.”
Thomas E Kellogg, Georgetown College’s government director of the Centre for Asian Legislation, mentioned Ma’s conviction may result in authorities taking an “virtually zero-tolerance method” to dissident voices.
“On condition that the safety legislation [has] put so many weapons within the fingers of the prosecution . . . I believe defence counsel taking over these circumstances have to develop new methods,” he mentioned.
After Ma’s conviction in October, 4 aged individuals had been arrested on suspicion of “seditious intention” below the town’s British colonial-era legal guidelines for displaying gadgets that police alleged violated the safety legislation.
These included a foldable show that bore the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our occasions”, in keeping with an individual aware of the matter. The phrase was deemed unlawful this yr within the first nationwide safety legislation case. Different gadgets included a banner that mentioned “I would like real common suffrage”.
Rising restrictions on civil freedoms in Hong Kong led Amnesty International, the human rights group, to close its offices after virtually 40 years within the metropolis as a result of it was involved about workers security.
The primary particular person convicted on nationwide safety fees was former waiter Tong Ying-kit. He was jailed for nine years for inciting secession and interesting in terrorism after using a motorcycle into police traces whereas carrying a flag with the “Liberate Hong Kong” slogan.