Conflicts & War

Hong Kong activist sentenced to 40 months in jail for sedition

By Shirley Lau

Hong kong, Apr 20 (EFE).- pro-democracy radio host in Hong Kong was sentenced to 40 months in jail for charges including seditious speech, in a high-profile case likely to influence free speech in the financial hub.

Tam Tak-chi, 49, faced 14 charges, including “uttering seditious words” under a rarely used British colonial-era law. The offenses were committed between January 2020 and July 2020, when Hong Kong was recovering from a months-long pro-democracy movement which increasingly focused on alleged police brutality.

The DJ-turned-activist was the first Hongkonger in 25 years to stand trial on sedition charges since Hong Kong’s sovereignty was handed over from Britain to China in 1997. Last month, Tam was found guilty of 11 of the 14 charges, including seven counts of seditious speech and one count of holding or convening an unauthorized assembly.

On Wednesday morning, Tam, detained for 19 months since he was arrested in September 2020, appeared in the District Court before judge Stanley Chan.

In handing down the sentence, which also included a HKD5,000 fine (about $640), the judge said he had to take into account the “political reality” in which Tam’s offenses took place, including “unprecedented violent events” that disrupted peace in society.

The defense lawyer said Tam’s acts only involved spoken words, which might “largely” be a matter of “venting emotions,” and that the defendant engaged in social activism in the hope of a more open political system.

But the judge cited a variety of Tam’s speeches, including insults toward police and pro-government elderly people, concluding he could only see the defendant – ex-vice chair of the radical political party People Power – verbally abuse others driven by the “self-serving” motive of becoming a legislator.

The court previously heard that on various occasions Tam chanted in public 171 times the popular, now-banned protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” cursed police about 100 times, and shouted “Down with the Communist Party” 11 times.

The sedition law was first drafted by the British colonial government in 1938 and was long criticized as an anti-free speech law. By 1997, it had not been used for decades.

In late June 2020, Beijing imposed on Hong Kong a harsh national security law partly to crack down on the protest movement. According to critics, the law has dealt a big blow to Hong Kong’s freedom of speech, press freedom and civil society.

Three months after the law took effect, Tam, a DJ with Commercial Radio known for his wit and quick thinking, became the first person to be charged with sedition. Four other people have recently been prosecuted under the sedition law and all pleaded guilty without standing trial.

“Take care mum. Live a long life!” Tam shouted to the public gallery, after receiving the sentence. EFE


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