HONG KONG (AP) — Two Hong Kong residents, including a pastor, were found guilty of sedition and sentenced to jail Thursday for clapping and criticizing a judge during a previous trial over a banned vigil in the city.
The Rev. Garry Pang Moon-yuen and Chiu Mei-ying, a housewife, were arrested in April for disturbances during a court hearing in January in which a leader of a group that organized a vigil commemorating China’s 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square was sentenced for inciting others to join the prohibited event last year.
Hong Kong is undergoing a political crackdown following widespread anti-government protests in 2019 and the imposition of a sweeping National Security Law in 2020, with many prominent democracy activists arrested and jailed.
In addition to the National Security Law, a growing number of dissidents have been charged with sedition under a colonial-era law.
Instead of being charged with contempt of court, Pang and Chiu were accused of uttering seditious words. Pang reportedly told the judge “You have lost your conscience” and Chiu reportedly accused the magistrate of not complying with the law and deciding the case arbitrarily.
Magistrate Cheng Lim-chi convicted the two for attempting to make others feel hate and contempt toward the administration of justice, saying their comments were “definitely not a slip of tongue.”
Pang was also found guilty on an additional charge of acting with seditious intention for YouTube videos he published between 2020 and this year. In the videos he criticized how judges handled other cases, the court heard.
He was sentenced to one year in prison for his two convictions, while Chiu was ordered to serve a three-month jail term.
Sedition is punishable by up to two years in jail for a first offense and three years for a subsequent offense.
For decades, Hong Kong and nearby Macao were the only places in China allowed to commemorate the Chinese army’s violent suppression of student protesters demanding greater democracy in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. Hundreds, if not thousands, were killed.
This past June, authorities banned the annual commemoration for a third consecutive year in what was seen as a move to snuff out political dissent and a sign that Hong Kong is losing its freedoms as Beijing tightens its grip over the semi-autonomous city.
The World Justice Project announced on Wednesday that Hong Kong has fallen three places to 22nd in the world in its latest Rule of Law Index.
A Hong Kong government spokesman on Wednesday said the city’s ranking was still better than some Western countries, which he said have “unreasonably” criticized the rule of law in Hong Kong. He said the ranking change could stem from a lack of understanding of the city.