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Hong Kong: ‘Captain America’ sentencing exposes ‘dangerously disproportionate’ restrictions on rights

Responding to the sentencing of Hong Kong activist Ma Chun-man, also known as “Captain America 2.0”, to five years and nine months in prison for “inciting subversion” under the national security law, Amnesty International’s Deputy Secretary General Kyle Ward said:

“In the warped political landscape of post-national security law Hong Kong, peacefully expressing a political stance and trying to get support from others is interpreted as ‘inciting subversion’ and punishable by years in jail.

“It is outrageous that Ma Chun-man has been sentenced to more than five years in prison simply for chanting slogans and sharing his political views online. The Hong Kong government must stop criminalizing mere acts of expression without any demonstrated connection to the use of force or imminent violence.

“This conviction and sentencing clearly shows that restrictions on the right to freedom of expression in Hong Kong are dangerously disproportionate. The two verdicts handed down in national security law cases have not paid due regard to the human rights safeguards the Hong Kong authorities claim exist in the law.

“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.”  

Background

Ma Chun-man, who has also been dubbed “Captain America 2.0” for carrying a superhero shield at protests, was today sentenced to five years and nine months in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” under the national security law (NSL) enacted in Hong Kong in June 2020.

The sentence relates to him chanting slogans, holding up placards and giving media interviews at a series of protests last year.

In convicting him, the judge said it was not relevant whether or not his acts had been peaceful. Meanwhile, human rights safeguards in domestic and international law were barely discussed during his trial.

International standards clearly state that governments cannot cite national security grounds to restrict legitimate expression, which includes peacefully discussing and supporting independence movements. Even where national security may be used to limit human rights, it must be done through clear laws and in a way that is specific, necessary and proportionate to a demonstrated threat.

The Hong Kong authorities’ sweeping definition of “national security”, which follows that of mainland China, has been used arbitrarily as a pretext to restrict the human rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, fair trial and liberty, as well as to repress dissent and political opposition.

Between 1 July 2020 and October 2021, police arrested or ordered the arrest of at least 154 people in relation to the NSL. As of October 2021, at least 82 people have been formally charged, of whom 59 are presently in pretrial detention.

An Amnesty International research briefing released earlier this year found that the NSL has decimated Hong Kong’s freedoms and created a landscape increasingly devoid of human rights protections.