Prominent Radio Talk Show Host Stands Trial in Hong Kong For 'Sedition'

The charges against Tam Tak-chi are linked to slogans he wrote or shouted out in public.

Prominent Radio Talk Show Host Stands Trial in Hong Kong For 'Sedition'

A prominent political activist and radio show host stood trial in Hong Kong on Thursday under colonial-era sedition laws, amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent under a draconian national security law imposed on the city by Beijing.

Online talk-show host and Peoples Power activist Tam Tak-chi, 48, also known by his nickname Fast Beat, faces eight counts of sedition linked to slogans he either spoke or wrote between January and July 2020.

He is also being tried for "inciting an illegal assembly" and "disorderly conduct," after he gave a number of public speeches calling for the "liberation" of Hong Kong, some of which were peppered with Cantonese swear-words.

Tam stands accused of using the now-banned slogan of the 2019 protest movement, which was found to have "secessionist" intent in a separate trial this week under the national security law, "Free Hong Kong, revolution now!".

He is also accused of calling for Hong Kong's police force to be disbanded, saying the the authorities should "delay no more," a homonym for a Cantonese epithet involving the target's mother.

Tam allegedly also shouted: "Down with the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party (CCP)!"

While the authorities have already warned people not to use the slogan "Free Hong Kong, revolution now!", Tam's trial will likely lay down fresh "red lines" governing what speech the government regards as criminal. It is being conducted by national security judge Stanley Chan.

The trial was delayed pending Tuesday’s verdict in the case of motorcyclist Tong Ying-kit, who was found guilty of "terrorism" and "inciting secession" for flying the banned slogan from his motorbike during a protest against the national security law on July 1, 2020.

Judge Chan said he would likely apply the legal reasoning given in Tong's verdict to Tam's use of the "Free Hong Kong, revolution now!" slogan.

He also reprimanded some people attending the trial for "speaking loudly," implying that they could be held in contempt of court.

While he recognized that the verdict wasn't binding on the case, Chan said the High Court had provided "strong, highly applicable and persuasive guidance" on the slogan.

'Hatred, contempt'

In the sweeping colonial-era legislation under which Tam's charges were brought, sedition is defined as any words that generate "hatred, contempt or dissatisfaction" with the government, or "encourage disaffection."

The law was passed under British rule in 1938, and is widely regarded as illiberal and anti-free speech. However, by the turn of the century, it had lain dormant on the statute books for decades, until being resurrected for use against opposition politicians, activists, and participants in the 2019 protest movement.

Police last week charged three speech therapists with "sedition" under the same law after they published a children's picture book about sheep trying to defend their village from wolves, a storyline that was deemed to glorify the 2019 protests and "incite hatred" against the authorities.

While anyone convicted of a national security offense under the National Security Law for Hong Kong could face up to a lifetime in prison, sedition carries a maximum sentence of two years' imprisonment for a first offense.

Meanwhile, Economic Journal co-founder and veteran columnist Lam Hang-chi said he would be giving up writing, due the unpredictability of risk under the national security law.

"We never know when [Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam] will say that you have crossed a red line or violated the national security law," CitizenNews editor and columnist Chris Yeung told RFA in response to the news. "You could lose your freedom before you even have a chance to plead, because you can be arrested with no chance of bail."

"It's entirely natural [that journalists are] thinking, should I carry on writing?"

Current affairs commentator Johnny Lau said that a worsening political climate had made everyone start worrying.

"Even a very specifically used term could be deemed to have other meanings," Lau said. "These red lines aren't clearly defined; they're floaty, interdeterminate things."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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Wife of North Korean Consul in Russia Dies from COVID-19

Cost of vaccination in Vladivostok too high for the North’s privileged diplomats.

Wife of North Korean Consul in Russia Dies from COVID-19

The wife of a North Korean consul stationed in Vladivostok, Russia, contracted COVID-19 and died this month, RFA has learned from sources in Russia, who said the North lacked the cash to vaccinate its diplomats in the Pacific coast city.

The woman, whose name was not disclosed, had been living in Vladivostok since 2018, when her husband became one of only five people working at the tiny consulate in the major Pacific Ocean port city near Russia’s borders with North Korea and China.

Though the Russian-made Sputnik coronavirus vaccine is available in the city, production cannot keep up with demand and doses command top ruble.

North Korea’s government would not cover the costs of vaccinating the consulate staff and their families, and there was no vaccination plan in place, sources in the city told RFA.

“A close North Korean acquaintance informed me that the wife of a North Korean consul here in Vladivostok died of coronavirus, so the North Korean mission officials here and all over Russia are on high alert,” a Russian citizen of Korean descent told RFA’s Korean Service July 25.

“The news of her death came during a diplomatic office meeting. The consulate sent an emergency notice to the human resources company that manages dispatched workers, instructing them to raise their awareness that there was a coronavirus death in the family of the consulate,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

Vladivostok is home to many North Korean government-owned firms that sell the labor of workers sent to the Russian Far East by Pyongyang to earn foreign cash for the regime, usually in the construction sector.

The companies, which forward the lion’s share of the workers’ earned wages to Pyongyang, have a close-knit relationship with the consulate.

The consul’s wife was hospitalized on July 15, after she had coronavirus symptoms including a high fever and coughing that started at the beginning of the month. The woman, who is in her early 40s, died while receiving treatment in the hospital, according to the source.

“The Russian coronavirus vaccine costs 7,000 rubles, which is about U.S. $95 per dose. People say that the North Korean diplomats and their families have not yet made a plan to vaccinate because it costs at least $190 to get both doses, and they suffer from economic difficulties,” the source said.

“Under the direction of North Korea, the consul’s wife was immediately cremated, and a quiet funeral was held.”

Another source, a resident of Vladivostok, confirmed the death to RFA on July 26, saying that all the North Koreans in the city are now living in fear after seeing that even such a high-profile person could not afford the vaccine.

“Although we have a Russian-made vaccine, production is insufficient, so it costs too much. So there are many non-vaccinated people in the Vladivostok area,” the second source said, adding that the consulate had convened several meetings related to the woman’s death.

“Due to shortages in the supply of the Russian coronavirus vaccine, most people living in Vladivostok have not yet been vaccinated… Vladivostok is also known as a region with high medical costs in Russia. If you are hospitalized for more than 10 days at a general hospital, it costs nearly $10,000 on average,” the second source said.

People who die in the hospital will have about $1,000 extra added to their bills for cremation, the source added.

“So it’s not only the North Korean dispatched workers in nearby areas, but also mission staff that cannot really go to the hospital, even if they are sick.”

Russia has recorded 6,195,232 coronavirus cases and 156,178 deaths as of Thursday.

According to CNN, in January 2018 an estimated 50,000 North Koreans were working in Russia – many in construction – in what the U.S. Department of State called “slave-like” labor.

Following the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2397 in Dec. 2017, all North Korean workers in Russia were supposed to have been repatriated by the end of 2019, and host countries were forbidden from issuing new working visas.

North Korea had been able to get around this by sending workers to Russia on student visas and having them apply for work permits. Pyongyang had hoped to continue doing this beyond 2019, but the pandemic in early 2020 shut down cross-border travel and put a snag in those plans.

A source familiar with the North Korean labor situation in Russia told RFA in February that there were 2,000 to 3,000 North Koreans in Russia working to earn foreign cash for Pyongyang in violation of sanctions.

Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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