A Hong Kong court on Friday sentenced a student to two months imprisonment for sedition over pro-independence social media posts she published while studying in Japan.
This is the first known Hong Konger convicted under the colonial-era sedition law over online speech in Japan.
Scholars and overseas activists say this case represents an alarming escalation of the chilling effect experienced by those who continue to engage with Hong Kong affairs.
Hong Kong Chief Magistrate Victor So (蘇惠德) sentenced the student to two months in jail after her guilty plea, saying deterrent sentencing was needed because “ignorant people would be incited subtly.”
Mika Yuen, 23, pleaded guilty to sedition late last month for 13 pro-Hong Kong independence social media posts on Facebook and Instagram shared from September 2018 to March this year.
According to the prosecutor, most of the posts were published when she was studying in Japan, with messages saying: “I am a Hong Konger; I advocate for Hong Kong independence,” and “Hong Kong independence, the only way out.”
Among the 13 alleged social media posts, only two posts were shared from Hong Kong.
She was arrested in March after returning to the city to renew her identity card.
The defense had earlier disputed whether the magistrate’s court had extraterritorial jurisdiction over the posts she published abroad, but they abandoned the dispute as Yuen did not remove the content.
Sedition is punishable by a maximum jail term of two years upon conviction. It is not among the offenses criminalized by the Beijing-imposed National Security Law, but it has been ruled by the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal as an act that can endanger national security.
In related news, a US bill was introduced on Thursday calling for sanctions against 49 Hong Kong officials, judges and prosecutors involved in national security legal cases.
The Hong Kong Sanctions Act is a bipartisan bid by US congresspeople in the US House of Representatives and the Senate. It would require the US president to determine whether the Hong Kong officials named in it qualify for sanctions under existing US legislation, including the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019.
Officials named in the bill include Hong Kong Secretary for Justice Paul Lam (林定國), Committee for Safeguarding National Security secretary-general Sonny Au (區志光), Police Commissioner Raymond Siu Chak-yee (蕭澤頤), Chief Justice Andrew Cheung (張舉能) and High Court Judge Esther Toh (杜麗冰).
In response, Hong Kong on Friday condemned the move, saying US legislators were grandstanding and trying to intimidate the city.
A city government spokesperson said that US politicians should stop acting against international law and norms of international relations and stop interfering in Hong Kong matters, which were “purely China’s internal affairs.”
Beijing imposed the National Security Law on Hong Kong in 2020 after months of pro-democracy protests.
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