A court in Hong Kong on Wednesday denied bail to an outspoken online radio show host following his arrest under a colonial-era sedition law over comments made during his shows.
Wan Yiu-sing, known by his nickname Giggs, was arrested on suspicion of “seditious intent,” over comments he made during online radio shows he hosted from August to October 2020.
The West Kowloon Magistracy on Wednesday denied Wan’s bail application, saying that there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that he won’t “re-offend” if released from custody.
Wan’s wife and daughter wept openly in court when the decision was read out, with his daughter shouting out “Dad!”
The judge said there was a risk to “national security” if Wan were to be released, although the case doesn’t fall under a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since July 1, 2020.
The prosecution had earlier drawn comparisons with the denial of bail on Tuesday to pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai, who has been charged with “collusion with a foreign power” under the national security law.
Wan, 52, has been charged with “acting with seditious intent” in online programmes that he hosted between August and October last year.
City-wide crackdown on public criticism
Seditious intent under the Crimes Ordinance is defined as “intent to arouse hatred or contempt of the Hong Kong [government] or to incite rebellion, and cause dissatisfaction with it.”
Wan’s arrest came amid a city-wide crackdown on public criticism of the Hong Kong authorities and the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the wake of a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong from July 1, 2020.
Wan had been out on bail following an earlier arrest in November 2020 on suspicion of offering financial support to alleged pro-independence activities.
Wan was also a former guest host on the weekly RFA show “China Forum,” which ended its run on Nov. 18.
The Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said the decision meant a “de facto three-month jail sentence” for Wan.
“[RSF] demands his release and calls on #HongKong government to stop the #judicialpersecution of #pressfreedom defenders,” the group said via its Twitter account.
The denial of bail to Wan came amid reports that the Hong Kong government will move to abolish jury trials in cases brought under the national security law, in a potential break with 176 years of juridical practice under Hong Kong’s common law system.
Chief executive Carrie Lam declined to confirm or deny a Feb. 8 report from Agence France-Presse, saying only that “everything will be handled according to law.”
A Hong Kong barrister who declined to be named said that the language of the National Security Law for Hong Kong is entirely consistent with the legal language used in mainland China, a civil system with no jury trials, where courts are answerable to the CCP, and where defendants are rarely acquitted.
But he said abandoning juries meant cases could be decided according to the preconceptions of judges alone.
“Sometimes judges hear too many cases of a certain kind, and they have certain prejudices or ideas about them,” the barrister said. “I would hope to see as much participation in the justice system as possible by ordinary citizens [as jury members].”
AFP reported on Monday that Hong Kong justice secretary Teresa Cheng had informed defense lawyers representing Tong Ying-kit, a 23-year old man arrested the day after the law came in to effect for allegedly driving his motorbike into a crowd of police officers while flying a protest flag, that no jury would be present at Tong’s trial.
Instead the trial will be heard by three judges who have been appointed to try national security cases, Cheng reportedly told the lawyers.
Tong faces charges of “terrorism” and “inciting secession” under the new law, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
A Department of Justice spokesperson declined to comment when asked by AFP for comment because case proceedings are ongoing.
Trial by jury is described by the Hong Kong justice department as one of the judiciary’s “most important features.”
Reported by Lau Siu Fung and Man Hoi Yan for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.