An engineering student from Hong Kong has been sentenced to five years in jail for advocating the city’s independence from the Chinese Communist Party in his messages sent on instant messaging app Telegram.
Lui Sai-yu, a 25-year-old undergraduate student at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, was charged with “incitement to secession” in April 2021 under the 2020 Beijing imposition of the national security law.
Lui was originally sentenced to 3 years and 8 months by Judge Amanda Woodcock when his guilty plea reduced one third of his sentence; however, it was increased to 5 years on Friday after prosecutor Ivan Cheung argued his crime was of a “serious nature.” Woodcock was bound by Article 21 of the security law to sentence the student to at least five years.
The student was first arrested in September 2020 following a police raid in his flat in Fanling. Police seized an extendable police baton, two military knives, a pepper ball launcher and protective gear.
In exchange for the prosecutors dropping two charges from his possession of firearms and offensive weapons, Liu pleaded guilty on Wednesday.
The prosecutor said Liu co-managed the Telegram platform “Channel of Anti-Communism and Hong Kong Independence” to call for independence. Investigators found more than 1,000 offending messages sent by Liu that included statements such as “Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times,” “Hong Kong independence, the only way out” and “Fight against totalitarianism.”
“By choosing the forum of an open Telegram channel, the defendant and the other administrator intended to reach out to as many as possible,” the judge said. “This offense was committed during a time when there was social unrest and heightened anti-government sentiment. In this context and in such a social climate the offense aggravated the risks of public and social disorder.”
Liu’s lawyer, Edwin Choy Wai-bond, is considering an appeal. He claimed that posting on Telegram differs from speaking in public, especially since his client is not a well-known person and only has limited influence.
In a mitigation letter, Liu told the judge that his intention was to “let the voice of people be heard.” He referenced the 2019 Hong Kong protests, which was fueled by citizens’ fear of China removing the freedoms promised to the island when it was returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997. Authorities, however, say the law does not erode any freedoms and was meant to restore stability after the protests.
“It was difficult for an energetic and idealistic young man to keep completely uninvolved,” Lui wrote. “My love for Hong Kong was no less than anyone else’s.”
Lui is the fourth person to be jailed under the 2020 national security law that criminalizes any acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign or external forces with up to life imprisonment.
Featured Image via Handout via SCMP