Hong Kong student pleads guilty to sedition over 13 pro-independence social media posts, most of which made while she was in Japan

A Hong Kong student pleaded guilty to sedition on Thursday over 13 pro-independence social media posts, most of which she published while she was pursuing her education in Japan.

West Kowloon Court heard Mika Yuen Ching-ting had violated the colonial-era law by posting images of offensive banners and adding captions insisting Hong Kong independence was “the only way out” on photos used on her Facebook profile.

The 23-year-old also shared a tweet that called the Chinese Communist Party a “terrorist organisation”, and urged others to witness the downfall of the authorities.

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A prosecution case summary said the offence covered a 4½-year span between September 2018 and March 2023, with only two posts published while Yuen was in Hong Kong.

The summary highlighted a Facebook post where she shared her thoughts on a Tokyo museum exhibition about the 2019 anti-government protests in Hong Kong.

She wrote in Japanese that freedom was something to fight for and win through bloodshed and perseverance.

“[I] will keep watching closely, sharing my thoughts and influencing the people around me so that this country will not cease being one,” Yuen said.

Senior Inspector Yau Cho-yi, of the National Security Department, argued the statement, especially the use of the word “country” in describing Hong Kong, was proof of Yuen’s determination to advocate the city’s separation from mainland China.

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Defence lawyers suggested in earlier proceedings the court might not have jurisdiction over the posts Yuen published while abroad, but on Thursday said they would abandon that contention as the accused had not removed the content, making it still available.

Steven Kwan Man-wai, on behalf of the defence, said Yuen had neither any political affiliation nor involvement in the 2019 protests that were sparked by a now-withdrawn extradition bill.

He described Yuen as an ordinary, law-abiding student from a humble background, who earned admission in a degree programme in law and political science after spending four years studying cosmetics in the northeast Asian country.

The student was arrested in March this year after returning to the city to replace her identity card, and had been troubled by a mental condition since the start of the criminal proceedings, the court was told.

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Yuen wrote in a mitigation letter she had learned to see Hong Kong from a “new, multifaceted and balanced” perspective.

Kwan urged the court to impose a non-custodial sentence in light of “exceptional circumstances”, including Yuen’s ignorance of the law, changes in her mindset over the years and the minimal risk she posed to national security.

“The defendant’s remorse is beyond doubt,” the lawyer said. “In her three video-recorded interviews with the force, she made … a complete confession. She did not lie.”

Chief Magistrate Victor So Wai-tak adjourned sentencing until November 3, pending further defence submissions on Yuen’s background, and extended bail.

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“All sentencing options remain open, especially an immediate term of imprisonment,” So told the defendant.

Sedition is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment for a first conviction. It is not among the offences criminalised by the national security law, but it has been recognised by the Court of Final Appeal as capable of endangering the safety of the country.

Prosecutors are entitled to request that sedition cases be heard only by judges picked by the chief executive, and defendants can face higher hurdles in obtaining bail.

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