This report was written by Han Tse and originally published in Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) on January 11, 2024. An edited version is published below as part of a content partnership agreement with HKFP.
A Hong Kong man has been jailed for three months over wearing a “seditious” t-shirt bearing the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” at the Hong Kong airport.
Chu Kai-poon, 26, appeared at the West Kowloon Law Courts Building on January 10, 2024. He pleaded guilty last week to one count of “doing an act or acts with seditious intention” and another count of “possessing seditious publications” under the colonial-era sedition law.
Chu was arrested near a boarding gate at the Hong Kong International Airport last November after he was seen wearing a t-shirt with the protest slogan printed on it.
According to Ming Pao, a local newspaper, the court heard last week on January 4 that it was an airport security guard who spotted Chu wearing a long-sleeve top with the phrase “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” on it. The guard reported the case to the control centre, which then called the police.
Police later found three flags in Chu's possession that bore the same slogan — as well as another t-shirt that had “Hong Kong independence” printed on it.
The defendant, who is unemployed, has been remanded in custody since he first appeared in court on November 30, 2023. He pleaded guilty to both counts of sedition last week.
Designated national security judge Chief Magistrate Victor So said on January 10 that the offence was less serious than in other sedition cases as it involved a small number of items and a relatively short period of time.
The judge said that between leaving his residence and arriving at the airport, Chu only publicly demonstrated the protest slogan for five hours and 23 minutes. This was less influential than posting it on the internet, So said. He added that Chu had no political affiliation.
But So said that the defendant knowingly violated the law as the slogan had been ruled “capable of endangering national security.”
In the city’s first national security trial, the courts determined that the phrase could incite others to commit secession.
The judge also said Chu had bought the clothes and flags from Taiwan, showing that he knew that they were a breach of Hong Kong laws. This added to the gravity of the offences, So said.
The court handed Chu a three-month jail term, reduced from a 4.5-month term as he had pleaded guilty.
A popular refrain during the 2019 pro-democracy protests, the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” was said by the government to be “pro-independence, secessionist and subversive” on July 2, 2020, two days after the Beijing-imposed national security law came into force.
During the city’s first national security trial in July 2021, the slogan was ruled capable of inciting secession, an offence under the security law, which also criminalises subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism.
The security law was imposed by Beijing after months of protests and unrest in 2019, sparked by a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to mainland China. The demonstrations ballooned into a wider pro-democracy movement against the Hong Kong and Beijing governments, as well as alleged police brutality during the protests.
Authorities have revived the colonial-era legislation, which is separate from the national security law, in recent years. The legislation was last amended in the 1970s when Hong Kong was still a British colony.
Sedition carries a lighter maximum penalty of two years in jail for a first conviction, compared to life imprisonment for national security offences. But those charged under the colonial legislation have to face the more stringent bail threshold as those prosecuted under the security law, meaning they are often remanded in custody once brought to court. Sedition cases are also handled by handpicked national security judges.