A Hong Kong man known as “Captain America” for carrying the superhero’s shield at protest rallies has been sentenced to more than five years in jail for chanting slogans promoting Hong Kong’s independence from China.
Ma Chun-man, a 31-year-old food delivery driver, was convicted last month by a judge of trying to separate the city from China by chanting slogans and displaying placards, as well as through interviews with reporters.
It is the third national security case to come to trial since Hong Kong authorities began wielding a sweeping new law to snuff out dissent.
China imposed the national security law on the city last year in response to massive democracy protests, a move that has brought mainland-style speech curbs to the once outspoken business hub.
Hong Kong’s first national security trial took place in July when former waiter Tong Ying-kit was sentenced to nine years in jail for terrorism and secession after he rode his motorbike into police while flying a protest flag.
But the latest trial is more of a legal weathervane because – much like the vast majority of upcoming national security trials – the offences do not involve a violent act and revolve instead around what someone has said.
Stanley Chan, one of the judges chosen by the government to try national security cases, said Ma’s offence was no less serious than Tong’s.
“It’s hard to guarantee that other people incited by him won’t become another Ma Chun-man,” the judge said. “Whether he used violence, whether he defied the law enforcers, whether his ideas got others’ recognition – all these are not important.”
The slogans Ma is said to have chanted included “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” and “Hong Kong independence, the only way out.”
In a handwritten letter to the court, Ma called himself “a man with no dream” who found inspiration last April in pro-democracy rallies at shopping malls.
Ma pleaded not guilty to the charges. “I am not ashamed or regretful of what I have done,” he wrote.
Amnesty International called the sentence “outrageous” and said restrictions on freedom of expression in Hong Kong were “dangerously disproportionate”.
“The Hong Kong government must stop endlessly expanding its definition of ‘endangering national security’ as a means of locking up people who express views it doesn’t like,” said Amnesty’s deputy secretary general Kyle Ward.