Hong Kong convicts 'Captain America' protester under national security law

HONG KONG – A Hong Kong activist dubbed “Captain America 2.0” for wearing the superhero’s shield during protests was convicted on Monday of inciting secession.

Former delivery driver Ma Chun-man, 31, was accused of promoting Hong Kong’s independence from China by chanting slogans, holding posters and giving media interviews at 20 demonstrations last year.

“Such a clear political stance undoubtedly led the defendant to intend to incite secession,” said District Judge Stanley Chan.

“The defendant has constantly and unconditionally incited things that are forbidden under national security law.”

Ma, who pleaded not guilty, chose not to testify in court or to summon witnesses.

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The national security law was passed and punished by Beijing last June in what China views as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces in the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

More than 100 people, including opposition politicians and activists, have been charged under the law and are currently on trial, some of which could face life imprisonment.

Critics say the authorities have used the Security Act as a tool of repression and that the right to freedom of expression, enshrined in the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, has been severely undermined.

Ma’s condemnation was based on things he said or wrote rather than any violent act. Hong Kong’s first national security conviction was of a man named Tong Ying-kit who rode a motorcycle into a group of police officers. Tong was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Videos were shown to the court of Ma chanting “Hong Kong independence, the only way out.” A notebook titled “Captain America’s Diary of Resistance” was also confiscated.

Defense attorney Edwin Choy previously told the court that Ma only wanted to exercise his right to freedom of expression and that these were just “empty slogans” and never acted on them.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Ma, who faces a maximum seven-year sentence, would appeal. He will next appear in court on November 11th.

On Monday before, the international rights group Amnesty International announced that it would close its offices in Hong Kong because the national security law had made it “de facto impossible” for rights groups to work freely without the risk of reprisals.

Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, Chair of Amnesty’s International Board of Directors, said in one opinion that the two offices would be closed by the end of the year, noting that the crackdown has intensified, which this year has forced at least 35 groups to disband according to the law.

Hong Kong Trade Union Confederation officials said this month that he will disband, one of dozen civil society groups that are doing so under the new law.SIPA USA via AP

“This decision, which was made with a heavy heart, was driven by Hong Kong’s national security law, which has made it virtually impossible for human rights organizations in Hong Kong to work freely and without fear of serious reprisals,” said Singh Bais.

“The environment of repression and constant uncertainty created by the national security law makes it impossible to know what activities could lead to criminal sanctions,” she added.

A spokesman for the Hong Kong Security Bureau said in response to a Reuters query that “every person or organization must comply with Hong Kong laws” and that security laws “respect human rights.”

Hong Kong and Chinese authorities made the law necessary to restore stability after mass protests in 2019, when millions took to the streets for many months.

In the past, Hong Kong had served as one of Asia’s leading NGO hubs, with groups drawn by the robust rule of law and extensive autonomy that Chinese officials had promised. The groups that broke up this year include several leading trade unions, NGOs and professional groups, while a number of other NGOs have moved to the democratic island of Taiwan.

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