Freedom of speech or division? “Recovering Hong Kong” is the core of the landmark case Reuters


© Reuters. File picture: On July 6, 2020, the police escorted a prison car carrying Tang Yingjie, the first person accused under the new National Security Law, to leave the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts in Hong Kong, China. REUTERS/Tyrone Xiao/File Photo

James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters)-On Tuesday, three Hong Kong judges will rule on whether the protest slogan “Recover Hong Kong. The Revolution of the Times” is a call for secession of the country. They will judge one arrested in the demonstration last year. The man made a verdict.

Some legal scholars said that this landmark ruling may reshape how a national security law against secession, terrorism, subversion, and collusion with foreign forces that China implemented in its freest city a year ago will reshape it. The common law tradition has a long-term impact.

Activists said that a ruling to ban the slogan would tighten restrictions on freedom of speech.

This slogan was chanted, posted on the Internet, scribbled on the wall and printed on everything from brochures, books, stickers and T-shirts to coffee cups during democratic protests.

During the 15-day trial of the 24-year-old waiter Tong Yingjie, the court learned that he was riding a motorcycle in central Hong Kong on July 1 last year and rushed to several riot police with a black flag with a slogan.

Tong is the first person to be charged under the National Security Law.

Chief government prosecutor Anthony Chau argued in court that this was a terrorist act. Tong tried to incite people to split the country. Both of these are “serious” crimes under the Security Law. If convicted, they may be sentenced to several years. imprisonment.

Tong pleaded not guilty to charges of serious bodily harm caused by terrorism, incitement to secession and dangerous driving. Zhou did not respond to a request for comment. Defense lawyer Clive Grossman declined to comment.

One of the cornerstones of the trial was the prosecution’s argument that the slogan “means Hong Kong’s independence”—a position that China cannot accept. China considers this financial center and the former British colony to be an “inseparable” part of its territory.

In the protests that began in 2019 and paralyzed the city, millions of people took to the streets to oppose the suppression of the freedom granted by the city’s constitution by the Chinese Communist Party leader. This slogan is everywhere.

When Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule from Britain in 1997, the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party promised to allow Hong Kong to maintain its judicial system and retain extensive autonomy and freedom as part of a binding agreement with the United Kingdom.

Critics say these freedoms are being trampled upon, and Beijing and Hong Kong authorities deny this claim.

Separatists or activists?

During the trial, the meaning of the slogan was debated fiercely in the exchange. The exchanges mentioned the emperor of China, Marxism-Leninism, ancient Chinese poets Li Bai, Malcolm X, rampant Mongolian barbarians, and former nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek.

The prosecutor told the court that this slogan was put forward by the famous Hong Kong independence advocate and Hong Kong activist Leung Ka Fai in 2016. Liang was sentenced to six years in prison for the riots, and reporters could not reach him for comment. The two lawyers representing him did not immediately comment.

The prosecution’s expert witness and history professor Liu Zhipeng testified that the first part of the Chinese slogan was translated as “liberation” or “recover”, and was used throughout the entire Chinese history from the Qin Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty, and regained lost ground or expelled the enemy. It means “unchanged in a thousand years.”

Liu told the court that the words in the slogan, used alone or alone, may have only one meaning: “They are related to the separation of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region from the People’s Republic of China.”

Liu also mentioned a rally on July 21, 2019, when protesters chanting slogans destroyed a national emblem outside the Liaison Office of the Chinese Representative in Hong Kong. The prosecutor told the court that the behavior and use of the slogan that day had the “purpose of rejecting the governance of the People’s Republic of China.”

Liu declined to comment.

Tong refused to testify in court. The defense convened two scholars, Eliza Lee, a professor of political science, and Francis Lee, a professor and expert on political communication. They are not related.

Francis Lee said in a report using hundreds of interviews with protesters on the spot and on the phone, and a statistical analysis of more than 25 million online posts, that there is “no substantive connection” between slogans and independence. Or relevance, because it is maintained by Liu.

Francis Lee said in court: “The theme slogan is indeed understood by many people in many different ways.”

Eliza Lee told the court that the slogan was “to unite freedom lovers of all ages.” However, she accepted that it might have a pro-independence meaning for some people.

Eliza Lee did not respond to a request for comment. Francis Lee declined to comment.

On one occasion, Prosecutor Zhou tried to compare Liang Zhenying with American civil rights leader Malcolm X and asked Eliza Lee if he thought he was a separatist?

“How much do we need to venture into the complex history of apartheid to understand this,” Lee replied, before a judge Anthea Pang interrupted.

“Whether Malcolm X was or can be regarded as a separatist or a separatist is a far cry from the question raised before the court.”

In his closing speech on Tuesday, Grossman said that protesters around the world often hold up signs without facing prosecution. If the meaning of the slogan is open-ended, Tong should be acquitted.

Grossman said that Liu has an “untenable, rigid, and mechanical view of history.” Ignoring rhetoric, the meaning of slogans cannot be ascertained as Liu tried.

Pang said that the court will consider whether the “natural and reasonable effect” of the slogan can indeed incite others to split, and Tong’s criminal intentions.





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