First minors sentenced under Hong Kong security law

The first minors convicted under Hong Kong’s national security law were sentenced to detention in a training center on Saturday by a judge who said their calls to overthrow the Chinese government should be a deterrent.

A 16-year-old girl and three 17-year-olds were members of a little-known pro-independence group that called itself “Returning Valiant” and promoted a violent uprising against China on street stalls and on social media. last year, the court heard.

They have been charged with ‘conspiracy to incite subversion’ under a sweeping national security law that Beijing imposed on the city to root out dissent after huge and sometimes violent democratic protests a year ago. three years.

On Saturday, Judge Kwok Wai-kin said the defendants’ message could have made peaceful protesters violent – although he admitted there was no direct evidence anyone was incited.

“Even if only one person is instigated, Hong Kong’s stability and people’s safety could have been greatly affected,” Kwok said.

The four teenagers, whom AFP chose not to name because of their age, all pleaded guilty last month alongside fellow 19-year-old Kwok Man-hei.

All five were sentenced to up to three years in a training center, a rehabilitation-focused detention center that can be a sentencing option for young people aged 14 to 20.

At a previous hearing, prosecutor Stella Lo said the group had broadcast its messages outside busy train stations, held press conferences and hosted online broadcasts for four months.

The defendants cited the French Revolution and Ukraine’s struggle for democratization over the past decade to support their case, the court heard.

Leaflets distributed by the group also quote the Chinese Communist Party’s Mao Zedong saying that “revolution is not a dinner party” and is instead “an act of violence whereby one class overthrows another,” Lo added.

Some of the teenagers were still in school when they were arrested.

The case also involves two adult defendants, whose sentences will be handed down separately next month.

Most have already spent a year in pre-trial detention, after new rules introduced by the security law made it harder for suspects to get bail.

The national security law stipulates that anyone who incites subversion should be sentenced to five to ten years in prison if the matter is serious.

Hong Kong courts generally refrain from sending minors to prison and prefer options that emphasize rehabilitation.

But prosecutor Anthony Chau said sentences under national security law must act as a deterrent.

Defense lawyers have argued that the door should be left open for defendants to receive more lenient sentences, given the typical reduced plea bargain.

Hong Kong’s once grassroots democracy movement has been dismantled by both the security law and prosecutors rolling out a colonial-era sedition law.

More than 210 people have been arrested under the law, including nearly 130 formally charged, mostly for political opinions and speeches.

Authorities have launched a separate terrorism prosecution against other members of Returning Valiant for an alleged bomb plot, with police accusing them of attempting to make the high explosive TATP.

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