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Hong Kong student gets five years for secession messages

National security law imposes minimum jail terms for serious offenses, rarely seen in the city's common law tradition

Hong Kong student gets five years for secession messages

The mobile messaging and call service Telegram logo on a smartphone screen. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 29, 2022 10:23 AM GMT

Updated: April 29, 2022 10:29 AM GMT

A Hong Kong judge today increased a university student's jail sentence to five years for messages sent on Telegram advocating the city's independence from China and calls to resist communist rule.

Lui Sai-yu, a 25-year-old engineering student, pleaded guilty to incitement to secession, a crime under the national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020 to crush dissent.

Lui is the fourth person jailed under the law, while over 100 other prosecutions are ongoing.

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District judge Amanda Woodcock said Lui's posts — sent to a channel on messaging app Telegram — showed he "condoned, promoted, advocated and incited others to commit secession or undermine national unification."

The court earlier heard that Lui's messages included "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times" — a protest slogan now deemed illegal.

Hong Kong's national security law imposes minimum jail terms for serious offences, a feature rarely seen in the city's common law tradition.

Lui was first arrested in September 2020 when police raided his flat and found a pepper ball gun, two knives, a baton and protective gear associated with democracy protesters

Woodcock initially jailed Lui for 44 months — factoring in a sentence reduction due to his guilty plea — but prosecutors called for a harsher punishment, arguing the minimum penalty for secession under the security law was no less than five years. The judge then amended the sentence.

Defense lawyer Edwin Choy said Woodcock's original punishment had already reflected the seriousness of the crime.

Choy told the court that the prosecutors' proposal of a harsher sentence "might not seem the fairest way to deal with this young man."

Georgetown University legal scholar Eric Lai called the sentencing "bizarre," reflecting the tension between the security law and Hong Kong's existing criminal justice system.

The security law has created a class of special courts and local judges have not remedied such "disturbing practices," Lai wrote on Twitter.

Lui was first arrested in September 2020 when police raided his flat and found a pepper ball gun, two knives, a baton and protective gear associated with democracy protesters. Lui's weapon charges were later dropped as part of a plea deal.

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