Hong Kong's 'Captain America' protester jailed for almost 6 years under security law

HONG KONG – A Hong Kong activist dubbed “Captain America 2.0” for wearing the superhero’s shield during protests for democracy was sentenced to nearly six years in prison under a national security law on Thursday after a court ruled that he promoted independence from China.

District Court judge Stanley Chan ruled in October that ex-delivery driver Ma Chun-man, 31, was guilty of secessionism based on the slogans he sang, the posters he held, and the statements he made to the media .

“The accused was instigated by a politician and eventually became an instigator himself,” said Chan, without naming the politician. “In this context, it is difficult to guarantee that there will be no other Ma Chun-mans.”

Ma had not pleaded guilty and had not given evidence.

One of his lawyers, Chris Ng, told reporters he was not sure Ma would appeal.

“I have no regrets,” Ma wrote in a letter to the judge, which he signed with his nickname.

“On my way to democracy and freedom, I cannot afford to be a coward,” he said in the letter, which was partially read in court before he was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison.

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Beijing passed the national security law on Hong Kong in June last year, effectively ending the largest and longest pro-democracy protests the former British colony has faced since the return to Chinese rule in 1997.

The law punishes anything China regards as subversion, secession, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces with up to life imprisonment and has been widely criticized as a tool to purge political opponents and destroy individual freedoms.

Beijing claims that Hong Kong’s rule of law and all rights and freedoms remain intact, saying the legislation is necessary to close loopholes in national security and end the often violent unrest allegedly fueled by foreign forces.

Ma’s conviction was second under the law.

In the first, former waiter Tong Ying-kit was sentenced to nine years in prison. He rode a motorcycle into a group of police officers and carried the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Time”, which the court considered “able to incite secession”.

Tong, who was also convicted of terrorism for allegedly using his motorcycle as a weapon, is appealing.

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

Another defense attorney, Edwin Choy, appealed for indulgence before the sentencing, saying that Ma’s slogans and chants were empty words of no great effect. Ma did not commit any acts of violence and was not someone who encouraged violence, Choy said.

More than 100 people, including many of the city’s most prominent opposition politicians and activists, have been charged under the Security Act. Most were denied bail.

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