By James Pomfret
HONG KONG, July 25 (Reuters) – Three Hong Kong judges will rule on Tuesday whether or not the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our Instances” is a name for secession after they ship a verdict on costs towards a person arrested at an illustration final 12 months.
The landmark ruling might have long-term implications for the way a nationwide safety legislation that China imposed on its freest metropolis a 12 months in the past towards secession, terrorism, subversion and collusion with international forces reshapes its frequent legislation traditions, some authorized students say.
Activists say a ruling to outlaw the slogan will tighten limits on free speech.
The slogan was chanted throughout pro-democracy protests, posted on-line, scrawled on partitions and printed on all the pieces from pamphlets, books, stickers and T-shirts to espresso mugs.
Throughout the 15-day trial of 24-year-old waiter Tong Ying-kit, the court docket heard how he rode a bike, carrying a black flag bearing the slogan into a number of riot police in central Hong Kong on July 1 final 12 months.
Tong was the primary particular person charged below the nationwide safety legislation.
Lead authorities prosecutor Anthony Chau argued in court docket that this was a terrorist act, and that Tong had sought to incite folks to secession, each “grave” offences below the safety legislation that might carry jail phrases of a number of years to life, if convicted.
Tong has pleaded not responsible to costs of terrorism, incitement to commit secession and harmful driving inflicting grievous bodily hurt. Chau didn’t reply to requests for remark. Defence barrister Clive Grossman declined to remark.
A cornerstone of the trial has been the prosecution’s argument that slogan “connotes Hong Kong independence” – a place unacceptable to China, which considers the monetary hub and former British colony an “inalienable” a part of its territory.
Throughout the protests that started in 2019 and paralysed town, thousands and thousands took to the streets to oppose a perceived clampdown by China’s Communist Occasion leaders on town’s constitutionally enshrined freedoms. The slogan was ubiquitous.
When Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese language rule in 1997, China’s Communist Occasion management pledged to permit town to keep up its judicial system and retain a large diploma of autonomy and freedoms as a part of a binding cope with Britain.
Critics say these freedoms are being trampled, an assertion authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong reject.
SEPARATIST OR ACTIVIST?
Within the court docket listening to, the which means of the slogan was fiercely debated in exchanges that drew on eclectic references to Chinese language emperors, Marxism-Leninism, the traditional Chinese language poet Li Bai, Malcolm X, rampaging Mongol barbarians, and former nationalist chief Chiang Kai-shek.
The prosecution informed the court docket the slogan was coined in 2016 by Hong Kong activist Edward Leung, a widely known advocate for Hong Kong independence. Leung is serving a six-year jail time period for rioting and couldn’t be reached for remark. There was no speedy remark from two attorneys who represented him.
An skilled witness for the prosecution, historical past professor Lau Chi-pang, testified that the primary portion of the Chinese language slogan, translated as “liberate”, or “reclaim”, had been used all through Chinese language historical past from the Qin to the Qing dynasties, and that the which means, to get well misplaced territory or to expel an enemy “has not modified all through a thousand years”.
Lau informed the court docket the phrases within the slogan, taken alone, or individually, might have however one which means: “They associated to separating the Hong Kong Particular Administrative Area from the Folks’s Republic of China.”
Lau additionally referred to a rally on July 21, 2019, when protesters, who chanted the slogan, broken a nationwide emblem exterior China’s consultant Liaison Workplace in Hong Kong. The conduct and use of the slogan that day had “the target of rejecting the governance of the Folks’s Republic of China”, the prosecution informed the court docket.
Lau declined to remark.
Tong declined to face as a witness. The defence referred to as two lecturers, political science professor Eliza Lee and Francis Lee, a professor and skilled in political communication. They aren’t associated.
In a report drawing on a whole lot of interviews with protesters on web site and over the cellphone, in addition to a statistical evaluation of greater than 25 million on-line posts, Francis Lee mentioned there was “no substantial linkage” or correlation between the slogan and independence, as maintained by Lau.
“The topic slogan was understood, actually, by many individuals in many various methods,” Francis Lee informed the court docket.
Eliza Lee informed the court docket the slogan was meant to “unite freedom-loving folks of all ages”. She accepted, nonetheless, that it might have pro-independence connotations to some folks.
Eliza Lee didn’t reply to a request for remark. Francis Lee declined to remark.
At one level prosecutor Chau sought to attract parallels between Edward Leung and the U.S. civil rights chief Malcolm X, asking Eliza Lee whether or not she would take into account him to be a separatist?
“How a lot do we have to enterprise into the sophisticated historical past of racial segregation as a way to perceive this,” Lee answered, earlier than one decide, Anthea Pang, interjected.
“Whether or not Malcolm X was or may very well be thought to be a secessionist or separatist is a query far far faraway from the problems offered in entrance of the court docket.”
In his closing speech on Tuesday, Grossman mentioned protesters worldwide usually held up indicators with out dealing with prosecution, and that Tong ought to be acquitted if the which means of the slogan was open-ended.
Grossman mentioned Lau had an “untenable, inflexible, mechanical view of historical past” that paid no heed to rhetoric, and the which means of the slogan couldn’t be pinned down as Lau was making an attempt to do.
Pang mentioned the court docket would take into account whether or not the “pure and cheap impact” of the slogan might certainly incite others to secession, in addition to Tong’s legal intent, in making its ruling.
(Reporting by James Pomfret Enhancing by Robert Birsel)
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