A former food delivery worker has been jailed for five years and nine months under Hong Kong’s national security law for inciting secession by chanting pro-independence slogans at protests and advocating the stance in interviews.
Adam Ma Chun-man returned before the District Court on Thursday, two weeks after he was convicted by a judge hand-picked by city leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to oversee proceedings stemming from the Beijing-imposed legislation.
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Explaining the sentence, Judge Stanley Chan Kwong-chi said he found the security law violation serious enough to warrant at least five years behind bars, as the defendant repeatedly incited others to separate Hong Kong from China and failed to display even “the least bit of remorse” – something Ma himself acknowledged.
Chan tacked on even more time to reflect Ma “wantonly denigrating the national security law” and “misleading others into thinking he did not break the law with his nonsense”.
“The defendant did not commit the offence out of momentary impulse. He always came prepared and advocated his stance aloud. He even posed as a ‘second-generation’ Captain America. The gratification of doing all these was written all over his face,” the judge said.
Still, after setting a starting point for sentencing of six years in prison, Chan knocked three months off, saying Ma had saved the court’s time by agreeing to most parts of the prosecution’s case.
The security law stipulates a minimum jail term of five years in incitement offences of a serious nature. The District Court can pass jail sentences of up to seven years.
From the bench, Chan also instructed prosecutors to take action against audience members who shouted from the gallery that the sentence was “too long” and “insane” as the decision was being read out, though no one was immediately questioned by authorities after the hearing.
Ma stood accused of promoting separatism on 20 occasions between August 15 and November 22 last year by using expressions 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 anti-government protests two years ago.
In mitigation, defence counsel Edwin Choy Wai-bond described Ma on Thursday as an isolated individual in society who had few friends and achievements. He said his client had sought companionship through interacting with protesters in a series of shopping centre demonstrations.
The lawyer urged the court to consider the offence as one of a minor nature and pass a jail term of less than five years, pointing to the lack of meaning in the defendant’s actions.
But Chan refused, saying Ma’s actions could have provoked others to resort to radical ways.
“Who knows? Maybe some of those incited would become another Adam Ma,” the judge added.
In a letter to the court, Ma said he had been inspired by jailed activist Edward Leung Tin-kei, and felt that he bore a responsibility to achieve the latter’s aspirations for independence.
He also accused peaceful demonstrators of abandoning the 2019 anti-government protest movement.
“Today is the 311th day I have been in jail,” Ma wrote in the letter, dated September 28, the first day of his trial. “I have denied the allegation, but my mind is exceptionally calm, even with a bit of joy.”
“Your Lordship, I do not feel any shame, nor do I have the least bit of remorse for what I have done in the past. I also promise that I will not display the slightest bit of weakness in the fight for democracy and justice,” he added.
Amnesty International deputy secretary general Kyle Ward called Thursday’s ruling “outrageous”, and urged the Hong Kong government to stop criminalising “mere acts of expression”.
“This conviction and sentencing clearly shows that restrictions on the right to freedom of expression in Hong Kong are dangerously disproportionate,” he said.
Ma was only the second defendant to stand trial under the national security law, which was enacted on June 30 last year to outlaw acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
The first was restaurant worker Leon Tong Ying-kit, 24, who was convicted of terrorism and inciting secession after driving his motorcycle into a group of police officers while flying a flag that bore the “Liberate Hong Kong” slogan. He was jailed for nine years.
Unlike Tong, whose case contained elements of violence, Ma was found guilty purely on the basis of the words he spoke and signs he displayed during his peaceful protests.
Three other defendants have pleaded guilty to security law charges to date. One of them, student activist Tony Chung Hon-lam, 20, will be sentenced on November 23 on secession and money-laundering charges.
Activist Andy Li Yu-hin, 30, and paralegal Chan Tsz-wah, 29, were the first to plead guilty under the law, admitting collusion with foreign forces. Their sentencing has been indefinitely adjourned, with no reasons provided in open court.