A court in Hong Kong has jailed a political activist nicknamed “Captain America 2.0” for chanting slogans deemed secessionist under a draconian national security law imposed on the city by Beijing.
Ma Chun-man was handed a five years-and-nine-months sentence on Thursday by the District Court, which found him guilty of of “inciting secession” after he chanted slogans including “Free Hong Kong, revolution now!” from the 2019 protest movement, and “Hong Kong independence is the only solution,” as well as calling for independence in public speeches.
Ma, 31, was handed a harsher sentence due to the “serious” nature of the offense, with judge Stanley Chan dismissing his lawyer’s mitigation plea that his actions were all peaceful in nature.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) imposed the law on Hong Kong from July 1, 2020, banning words and deeds deemed subversive or secessionist, or any activities linked to overseas groups as “collusion with foreign powers,” as well as public criticism of the Hong Kong government or the CCP.
The law has ushered in an ongoing and citywide crackdown on all forms of public dissent and political opposition, with dozens of opposition activists charged with “subversion” for taking part in a democratic primary, and election rules changed to ensure only pro-CCP candidates can run.
“National security education” — which is being tailored to all age-groups from kindergarten to university — is also mandatory under the law, while student unions and other civil society groups have disbanded, with some of their leaders arrested in recent months.
Hong Kong’s City University announced on Thursday that its president Way Kuo will step down in 2023, without explaining the move.
University presidents step down
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) announced a day earlier that its president Wei Shyy, who called for an inquiry into the death of HKUST student Chow Tsz-lok during the 2019 protest movement, will step down next year.
Shyy had called for an independent inquiry into Chow’s death and its rumored links to police activity, and later told reporters he had “no need” to support the national security, as it was already law, and would have to be obeyed.
City University vice president Matthew Lee said the university will conduct a “global” recruitment exercise to find Kuo’s successor.
“He has decided to step down as president after his third term expires in May 2023,” Lee told reporters. “The university has set up a selection committee to conduct an international recruitment process.”
Benson Wong, former assistant politics professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, said it is clear that Hong Kong’s universities, many of which have already derecognized their student unions, are planning to comply fully with the CCP’s wishes under the national security law.
“They may claim that there is global recruitment [for Shyy and Kuo’s replacements], but this is just for show … because a lot of the time they will already have a list of their preferred candidates,” Wong said.
“They may randomly add in some well-known scholars to go through the motions of ‘selection,’ but they won’t win in the end,” he said.
“I think Hong Kong’s academic reputation is going to dwindle over time due to this sort of politicization,” he said. “We won’t get well-known or experienced academics wanting to come and do research or management jobs in Hong Kong any more.”
Scant room for free thinking
Like Shyy, Kuo and City didn’t take part in any CCP-backed activities in support of the national security law, snubbing the “Reboot Hong Kong” initiative headed by two former chief executives close to Beijing.
The university and Kuo had both repeatedly called for a “separation” between politics and education, running counter to the current “national security” patriotic education campaign in Hong Kong.
Chung Kim-wah, deputy head of the Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI), said there is scant room left for free thinking or debate in Hong Kong’s education system.
“Was it Kuo who didn’t want to renew his contract, or the board?” Chung said. “I don’t know … but it immediately makes me recall that he didn’t sign up to support the national security law.”
“If you don’t do what the government wants, then you won’t get what you want next time around,” he said. “We have seen that the person they chose to lead the University of Hong Kong is unqualified to do so, so we can expect that the people who replace Shyy and Kuo won’t be either.”
“They’ll probably both be Chinese nationals who have studied overseas,” he said.
Chung said the growing curbs on freedom of speech in Hong Kong’s universities will mean that the best students and faculty won’t hang around for long.
“Even students are quitting now — a lot of students suddenly stopped attending last year,” he said. “I worry that neither the students nor the faculty will want to stay; certainly the best ones won’t.”
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.