The highest court's ruling potentially affects dozens of pro-democracy figures standing trial or appealing jail terms
This picture taken on Jan. 6, 2018, shows a pedestrian walking past the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal building in Hong Kong. (Photo: AFP)
Hong Kong's top court on Tuesday issued a landmark ruling affirming mandatory minimum sentences for people convicted of national security crimes, potentially affecting dozens of pro-democracy figures standing trial or appealing jail terms.
The national security law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in 2020 after months of democracy protests sets out minimum jail terms for serious offenses, a feature rarely seen in the former British colony's criminal justice system.
The Court of Final Appeal heard this month that a strict interpretation of the security law, when it came to jail sentences, would be "unfair and unjust" to university student Lui Sai-yu.
Get the latest from UCA News. Sign-up to receive our daily newsletter
The 26-year-old Lui, who was convicted of "incitement to secession" last year and handed five years in prison, had appealed his sentence.
He argued he should have benefited from a one-third sentence reduction given to those who plead guilty -- a practice typically adopted by judges under Hong Kong's common law system.
But Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal on Tuesday ruled unanimously that the security law used "mandatory language" in describing the length of jail terms.
For inciting secession, crimes of a "serious nature" will see offenders jailed for "not less than five years but not more than 10 years", according to the law.
The judges said there are only three ways for convicts to trim their sentences, which are set out in the law in an "exhaustive" list.
The purpose of the rule was to "provide... an incentive to desist from committing offenses, to assist the authorities in the suppression of activities endangering national security and to facilitate law enforcement", they added.
Eric Lai, a legal scholar at Georgetown University, said the ruling "further raises doubts" on how Hong Kong's common law system could work with integrity.
"It is clear that the local common law system has to compromise with the imposition of the national security law," Lai told AFP.
The security law allows sentence reductions for people who inform on other offenders, which Lai said may "create an incentive for the pro-democracy movement to further break down".
Tuesday's decision effectively lays down binding sentencing procedures for future national security cases.
Among the most high-profile cases are jailed pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai -- who will be tried for foreign collusion in December -- as well as 47 opposition figures tried for national security crimes.
Lui was the fourth person jailed under Hong Kong's security law after the court found that he advocated for Hong Kong separatism and resisting communist rule on the messaging app Telegram.
At trial, the court heard that Lui's messages include "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times" -- a protest slogan now deemed illegal.
As of June, police had arrested 260 people under the security law and around 60 percent had been charged.
The Church in Asia needs objective and independent journalism to speak the truth about the Church and the state. With a network of professionally qualified journalists and editors across Asia, UCA News is all about this mission.
Share your comments
Suixian/Suizhou, formerly Sui County is a prefecture-level city in
In a land area of 1,950 square kilometres, the diocese of Quilon comprises major part of the civil district of Kollam,
Ningbo Diocese covers the three cities of Ningbo, Shaoxing and Zhoushan at the northeastern part of Zhejiang province,
The history of Kita Ichijo Cathedral Church, the mother church of Sapporo Diocese, is inseparably...
The Sacred Heart Cathedral in Yamate of Yokohama is the oldest Catholic Church built in 1862 by...
The Cathedral of Good Shepherd in Singapore is a historic National Monument, but it also holds...