Third Hong Konger charged under new national security law

Police detain people as protesters demonstrate against the national security law on Sept 6, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - A Hong Kong man was dragged from a court shouting democracy slogans and remanded into custody on Tuesday (Nov 24) after becoming the third person to be charged under a sweeping new national security law.

The man's detention is a stark illustration of how the new legislation, imposed by Beijing this summer, has created a host of speech crimes with stiff consequences for those accused of breaching the rules.

Ma Chun-man, 30, was bundled away by police as he shouted "Spread the word, democracy is cultivated with blood and sweat" after being charged with "inciting secession" - one of the new national security crimes.

Prosecutors said Ma was arrested seven times by police between Aug 15 and Nov 22 and that he had chanted slogans calling for Hong Kong's independence from China.

Defence lawyers said Ma was a food delivery driver who lost his job last month and lived at home with his parents and brother.

Their request for bail was denied and Ma was remanded into custody until his next court appearance in February next year.

Beijing imposed its new security law in late June, bypassing Hong Kong's legislature and keeping the precise contents secret until it was enacted.

It targets four new crimes: secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

The law also granted China jurisdiction over especially serious crimes and empowered the mainland's security agents to operate openly in Hong Kong for the first time.

Beijing says it was needed to return stability after huge and often violent democracy protests last year.

Critics counter that it shredded what remained of Hong Kong's political freedoms and ramped up Beijing's direct control over the restless semi-autonomous city.

More than 30 people have been arrested under the new law - including opposition politicians and a media tycoon - with multiple investigations ongoing.

Ma is the third person to be charged, however.

The first was a man who allegedly drove his motorbike into police while flying a pro-independence flag and is now accused of terrorism and secession.

The second is Tony Chung, a 19-year-old former independence activist charged with secession for comments allegedly made on social media.

National security crimes carry between 10 years to life in prison and bail is usually denied.

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