Catholic and Protestant Church leaders in Hong Kong appealed to the government to press for the granting of amnesty to publishing magnate Jimmy Lai and other activists who were arrested under the region’s new national security law.
The religious leaders handed the petition to a government official outside the executive headquarters on Monday, January 31, according to a report on AsiaNews.
Italian missionary Franco Mella called on Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam to press the central government to drop the charges against the activists.
The priest said he hopes that Lam would “respond to her conscience as a devout Catholic.”
Beijing imposed the new national security measure in June 2020 supposedly to restore stability to Hong Kong after the massive pro-democratic protests in 2019.
Since the implementation of the new law, authorities have arrested at least 160 people, said the AsiaNews report.
Hong Kong’s courts, meanwhile, jailed two people for publishing seditious content on Monday, the first time the colonial-era law has been used to secure a conviction for printed content since the city’s 1997 handover to China.
Sedition is a throwback to Hong Kong’s British colonial past but has been dusted off as authorities carry out a widespread crackdown on dissent in the wake of 2019’s democracy protests.
Multiple people — including journalists, union members and a prominent radio DJ — have been detained under the law and are facing upcoming trials.
A woman last year was jailed for “conspiracy to commit a seditious act” over a pro-democracy chat group she ran which revealed personal details about police officers.
But Monday’s verdicts were the first seditious publication convictions since the return to Chinese rule.
Kim Chiang Chung-sang, 41, a former property manager, was given eight months in jail for putting up posters outside a kindergarten and the city’s High Court.
The posters criticized the judiciary for convicting a man last year at the first trial under a national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong to neuter dissent.
Acting Chief Magistrate Peter Law said Chiang was “challenging the rule of law” and trying to “poison children quietly.”
In a separate case that also concluded on Monday, the District Court jailed former clerk Chloe Tso Suet-sum, 45, for over a year for asking a 17-year-old to design and print protests leaflets.
Prosecutors said the leaflets contained slogans urging Hong Kong people to build their own army and nation, and also carried black bauhinia flowers, a symbol of the city’s now crushed democracy movement.
The 17-year-old, who AFP has chosen not to name, was sent to a youth rehabilitation centre, a step short of a custodial sentence where juveniles usually stay for two to five months.
The defendants in both cases pleaded guilty, which normally results in a sentence reduction.
Sedition carries up to two years in jail for a first offence.
During colonial rule it was deployed against pro-Beijing media and leftist government critics who slammed it as a tool to suppress free speech.
Now Chinese state media and Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing press have embraced its use against the current government’s critics.
Police and prosecutors now regularly use sedition alongside the national security law to clamp down on political speech and views.
It is treated like a national security crime which means those arrested are usually denied bail.
In recent months sedition charges have been brought against pro-democracy unionists who produced euphemistic children’s books about a sheep village defending itself from invading wolves, as well as journalists from now shuttered pro-democracy news outlets Apple Daily and StandNews.
Ming Pao, a Chinese mainstream newspaper in Hong Kong, recently adding a disclaimer to its columns saying it had no intention of committing sedition when criticizing government policy. – with a report from Agence France Presse