Pro-democracy activist Tam Tak-chi has been jailed for 40 months following Hong Kong’s first sedition trial since its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
On Wednesday, the politician and former talk show host was fined HK$5,000 (£488) and sentenced on 11 charges, including uttering seditious words, incitement to take part in unauthorised assemblies, and public disorder.
Mr Tam, 50, was arrested in July 2020, just weeks after Beijing imposed a draconian national security law in a bid to throttle anti-government protests that raged across the city. Under the sweeping law, crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces are punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Judge Stanley Chan, while sentencing Mr Tam in the district court, said he could not ignore the socio-political reality of Hong Kong given the protests that rocked the city in 2019.
“The court could not take away the social and political reality as the background for sentencing, which also allowed a better understanding of the seriousness of the defendant's crime and its political purpose,” the judge said.
Even though some of the charges involved pre-dated the stringent national security law, the case was handled by a judge who is part of a new panel selected by Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam to handle national security cases.
Mr Tam was accused of chanting provocative slogans during the anti-China protests in 2020, including advocating for Hong Kong’s “liberation” and a “revolution of our times”.
His lawyers argued in court that he had long been passionate about politics and social issues and wanted change for society, not for his own benefits.
Prior to arriving at the court, he left a message on his Facebook page that read: “My sentencing will affect Hongkongers’ freedom of speech.”
Critics have said that the colonial-era sedition offence, which had not been used for decades, is likely to be imposed more following the introduction of the security law.
Additional reporting by agencies