A former food delivery worker jailed under Hong Kong’s national security law for chanting independence slogans at protests merely spouted “empty words” without intending to advocate the city’s secession from mainland China, his legal counsel has argued.
The Court of Appeal on Tuesday heard the first-ever application stemming from the legislation imposed by Beijing in June 2020, with defence lawyers alleging the sentencing judge had made multiple errors when assessing their client’s culpability.
A judge hand-picked by the city’s leader to oversee national security proceedings sentenced Adam Ma Chun-man to 69 months in jail last November for inciting secession on 20 occasions during a three-month span, which occurred soon after the new law took effect.
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Popularly known as a “second-generation Captain America” for his dressing up as the superhero during previous demonstrations, Ma had used slogans such as “Hong Kong independence, the only way out”, “Hongkongers, build our country” and “Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times” – a signature rallying call of the 2019 anti-government protests.
The former food delivery worker had also promoted his political ideals on social media platforms and during interviews with news outlets, where he called on other residents to advocate independence in schools and prepare for the next “revolution”.
District Court Judge Stanley Chan Kwong-chi found the offence committed by Ma to be of a serious nature, which warranted a jail term of five to 10 years based on the national security law’s sentencing regime.
On Tuesday, senior counsel Edwin Choy Wai-bond, who represents the appellant, described Ma’s past conduct as being similar to speaking in an echo chamber and could not have objectively undermined national unity.
The barrister also argued that several expressions repeated by Ma were devoid of substance and should not be cited as evidence of his support for violence.
“The defendant lacked detailed planning. What he called ‘build our country’ or ‘build our army’ were but empty words,” Choy said.
“He was just one of many people who took part in the so-called ‘Sing with You’ protests, shouting slogans and calling others out … Few people had echoed him.”
Choy contended that Chan had erred in increasing Ma’s sentence by pointing to his lack of remorse and “irrelevant matters”, such as his subjective opinion that the former food delivery worker’s offence was an act of self-gratification to validate his existence.
He submitted that the case was of a minor nature, whereby a sentence alternative to jail would be applicable, but acknowledged that five years imprisonment would be an appropriate penalty for his client.
Giving his preliminary observations, Chief Justice of the High Court Jeremy Poon Shiu-chor said the lower court appeared to have their reasons for increasing Ma’s sentence to reflect his chance of reoffending, especially when he had repeatedly breached the law within a short period of time.
Justices Derek Pang Wai-cheong and Anthea Pang Po-kam also rejected the defence’s argument that Ma had misunderstood the effect of the new law, citing his mitigation letter to the lower court whereby he claimed he felt no shame or “the least bit of remorse”.
The bench will hand down its judgment on September 5.
The national security law outlaws acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment applicable in serious cases.
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