Hong Kong court jails former radio host for sedition

Pro-democracy activist Tam Tak-chi was convicted last month on 11 counts, including seven of sedition. PHOTO: TAM TAK-CHI/FACEBOOK

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - A Hong Kong court handed a 40-month prison sentence to the first person convicted under a colonial-era sedition law since the handover to China, a sign the authorities intend to dish out stiff punishments for critical speech as part of a broader political crackdown.

Pro-democracy activist Tam Tak-chi, 50, was handed the term by Judge Stanley Chan in District Court on Wednesday (April 20) after he was convicted last month on 11 counts, including seven of sedition.

Tam has already been held in jail without bail for more than a year.

The former radio host's convictions stemmed from uttering seditious words with the intention of inciting "hatred or contempt" against the Hong Kong government, including the now-banned protest phrase "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times" and "death to corrupted police families", according to court documents and reports in the now-shuttered Stand News.

Tam repeated these phrases several hundred times between January and July 2020, court documents said.

The punishment for Tam is the latest in a series of widening and intensifying clampdown the city has seen in response to the pro-democracy protests of 2019.

The measures have deepened concerns that the authorities are using a wide array of tools beyond the Beijing-imposed national security law to restrict the rights of Hong Kongers.

Tam was convicted under a 1938 sedition law that's rarely been used outside of a series of leftist riots in the 1960s.

At least 30 individuals have been arrested for inciting or publishing seditious text or materials, including a martial arts instructor and his assistant who were charged last month over statements and posters published on Facebook and operating martial-arts classes with the intent of inciting hatred against China or Hong Kong.

The sweeping security law, enacted in mid-2020, bars terrorism, secession, subversion and collusion with foreign powers.

It has already been widely used to prosecute pro-democracy activists, including former media mogul Jimmy Lai, who published the now-closed Apple Daily.

Some 180 individuals have been arrested by the city's national security police, and convictions under the law can be punished with sentences of up to life in prison.

Hong Kong has been criticised, especially by the United States, for its expanding crackdown on dissent.

Last month, the State Department blasted China for blocking the pro-democracy opposition from playing a meaningful role in Hong Kong's governance and criminalising peaceful political expression, charges the city's government called "ridiculous".

China says the security law has brought stability to the city. In addition to the prison term, the court imposed a fine of HK$5,000 (S$871) on Tam, who needs to pay the amount within two months or face 14 more days in jail.

Tam's next court appearance will be on April 28 on a charge of conspiracy to commit subversion under the national security law.

The authorities say the goal of some 47 activists in an unofficial primary election two years ago was to paralyse the government and subvert state power.

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