HK activist Tam Tak-chi advances appeal bid against sedition conviction

Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Tam Tak-chi has advanced his appeal bid against his 40-month sentence and conviction for charges including “uttering seditious words.”

Tam Tak-chi. File photo: Etan Liam, via Flickr.

A panel of three judges at the High Court’s Court of Appeal granted a certificate on Wednesday to Tam, with which he can apply to take his legal challenge to the Court of Final Appeal. The decision moves the vice-chair of the since-disbanded political party People Power one step along the legal system’s convoluted appeals procedure.

It came a year after the activist – better known by his radio presenter nickname “Fast Beat” – first lodged a bid to appeal a District Court ruling that saw him found guilty and sentenced him to over three years in jail in 2022.

Tam was convicted on 11 charges, including seven counts of “uttering seditious words,” one count of disorderly conduct in a public place and one count of inciting others to take part in an unauthorised assembly in April 2022. He was the first person to stand trial under the sedition law since the 1997 Handover, after authorities revived the colonial-era legislation in the wake of Beijing imposing a national security law.

When the city passed homegrown security legislation, also known as Article 23, in March, the existing sedition law was repealed and wrapped into the new Safeguarding National Security Ordinance. Now, sedition carries a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment – or 10 if the offence involves colluding with foreign forces – instead of two.

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The High Court. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

In a judgement published online on Wednesday, the Court of Appeal judges said the appellant’s case was worth considering as it involved the “predecessors” of the new sedition offences under Article 23.

The top court’s decisions regarding those points would impact other cases involving offences under the colonial-era law, the judges added.

City’s ‘political reality’

Tam was arrested in September 2020 and found guilty of committing offences linked to activities including public assemblies, processions and street booths between January and July that year.

The prosecution accused him of calling the Hong Kong police “damned black cops.” He also chanted the slogan “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” which judges ruled in the city’s first national security trial as capable of inciting secession.

When providing his reasons for sentencing, handpicked national security judge Stanley Chan said the court had to take into consideration the “social and political reality” of Hong Kong, including the “unprecedented series of violent events” in 2019.

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Tam Tak-chi. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Tam has been detained for almost four years. He was denied bail in the lead up to his trial, and while he has finished serving his sentence related to the case, he remains in custody for a national security charge.

He was among 47 pro-democracy figures accused of conspiring to incite subversion linked to primary elections in July 2020 meant to shortlist candidates for the upcoming Legislative Council elections. He was among 31 to plead guilty last February.

The prosecution said the defendants planned to use legislative powers to indiscriminately veto bills, ultimately forcing the chief executive’s resignation and a government shutdown.

The court is currently hearing the mitigation pleas of the defendants. On Monday, Tam’s lawyer Pauline Leung said his client’s degree of participation was considered low as he did not organise or plan the scheme. Leung asked the court to take into account that he had already served a 40-month jail term for sedition and other offences.

Protests erupted in June 2019 over a since-axed extradition bill. They escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment. Demonstrators demanded an independent probe into police conduct, amnesty for those arrested and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.” 

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