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Monday, May 20, 2024

2 in pro-independence group jailed for 5 years under Hong Kong national security law

2 in pro-independence group jailed for 5 years under Hong Kong national security law

Founder of Returning Valiant, Choi Wing-kit and member Chris Chan jailed for conspiracy to incite subversion.

The founder of a pro-independence group in Hong Kong was sentenced to five years in jail on Thursday, along with another member of the now-defunct outfit, under the national security law for inciting an “armed revolution” to overthrow the local and central governments.

The two were among seven defendants who were members of the Returning Valiant group, who all admitted conspiracy to incite subversion on a joint count last August and September.

Choi Wing-kit, the 21-year-old founder of the group, also pleaded guilty to possession of offensive weapons with intent and was given six months for that offence, with half of it running concurrently with his national security crime.

Despite receiving no evidence that others had been incited by the defendants, District Judge Kwok Wai-kin said the case was of a “serious nature”.

“The risk does exist. As long as some people, or even one person, have been incited to launch an armed revolution without a bottom line, it may bring great harm to the society,” Kwok said.

Article 23 of the national security law states that anyone who incites subversion “shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than five years but not more than 10 years” if the offence is of a serious nature.

Calling itself the “embers of revolution”, the 20-strong group was said to have organised 13 street booths and press conferences, as well as operated three social media accounts, between January and May 2021 with the goal of toppling Beijing and the Hong Kong administration.

A member of pro-independence Returning Valiant group taken into custody by police in 2021.

As the founder, Choi must have raised the theory of “bloody revolution without a bottom line” or at least invited others to promote his ideology, Kwok said.

Kwok added that Choi had been controlling the group’s social media accounts so he could promote his advocacy to the wider public and he also showed up at street booths and accepted media interviews on behalf of the group.

The judge set a starting point for Choi’s sentence at 5½ years in jail, saying that this could have been higher if he had been 21 years old when the offence was committed.

Salesman Chris Chan Yau-tsun, 26, shared the same starting point for a sentence with Choi due to his lesser involvement in the case.

But Kwok said Chan also distributed fliers at street booths on three occasions and translated other defendants’ speeches into English to promote the group’s ideology.

As Chan committed the offence when he was over 24 years old, the judge said he was obviously a “mature adult” and did not believe he was encouraged by others into joining the group.

The court eventually reduced the pair’s sentence to five years imprisonment due to their guilty plea and other mitigation factors.

The other five teenage defendants were sentenced in October last year to up to three years at a correctional facility as their offences were of a minor nature. The sentencing of Choi and Chan was adjourned pending the Court of Appeal’s ruling on the principles regarding minimum sentences in national security proceedings.

Last November, it stated that judges could not impose sentences below the minimum stipulated in the national security law for serious crimes despite a guilty plea, except in very limited circumstances.

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