HONG KONG — If his cutoff T-shirts, close-cropped hair and lengthy, skinny beard weren’t sufficient to make Koo Sze-yiu stand out among the many plenty who took to the streets to protest in Hong Kong, there have been additionally the coffins.
Mr. Koo typically constructed the wood coffins by hand, adorning them with messages denouncing China’s Communist Party. For a long time, Mr. Koo, 75, carried the coffins as props in protests in Hong Kong, and he had deliberate to do the identical to mark the Beijing Winter Olympics in February. But earlier than he may, he was arrested by the Hong Kong police.
On Tuesday, Mr. Koo was convicted of tried sedition and sentenced to 9 months in jail, underscoring the authorities’ drive to stamp out even peaceable, small-scale shows of dissent that had been as soon as widespread in Hong Kong. Mr. Koo’s case has drawn specific concern as a result of he has been identified with Stage 4 colon most cancers, main pals to worry he may die in jail even whereas serving a comparatively brief sentence.
But Mr. Koo urged the courtroom to not present mercy on him.
“I don’t mind being a martyr for democracy and human rights,” Mr. Koo mentioned earlier than his sentencing. “In mainland China there are many political prisoners, prisoners of conscience and political dissidents.”
“Compared with human right lawyers in China, what I have sacrificed is nothing,” he added, referring to activist attorneys in the mainland who’ve been imprisoned, tortured or held indefinitely underneath home arrest.
Since 2020, the Beijing-backed authorities in Hong Kong have carried out a sweeping crackdown to muzzle dissent after months of antigovernment protests that roiled the semiautonomous Chinese metropolis. The marketing campaign has focused distinguished opposition figures and former lawmakers, in addition to a few of the most influential attorneys and publishers. It has additionally ensnared grass-roots activists like Mr. Koo.
Pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong had for years attracted tons of of 1000’s of individuals. Mr. Koo’s deliberate protest in February, which he had instructed the native information media about, would have been a small affair in comparability. He had needed to stroll alone to Beijing’s consultant workplace in Hong Kong, pushing a coffin on a trolley, bearing the slogan, “Down with the Communist Party, End One Party Dictatorship” and a profane message in regards to the nationwide safety regulation.
His attorneys had argued that as a result of his protest plans concerned no acts of violence, they shouldn’t be thought-about a crime. Mr. Koo had even meant to march from a close by police station to make it simpler for officers to observe the protest, they mentioned. But prosecutors argued that such a protest amounted to an motion plan to encourage Hong Kong residents to make use of unlawful means to overthrow the federal government.
Mr. Koo’s supporters and human rights activists say his case reveals how drastically speech rights have been curtailed in Hong Kong.
“There are now ideas you cannot touch without losing your freedom,” mentioned Avery Ng, secretary normal of the League of Social Democrats, a leftist, pro-democracy group in Hong Kong. “It’s so heartless. If they will send this guy with fourth-stage cancer to jail, what about the rest of us? But that’s the new reality those of us in Hong Kong have to accept.”
Principal Magistrate Peter Law, who heard Mr. Koo’s case, mentioned he had already been identified with most cancers when he dedicated the crime, so that may not be factored into his sentencing.
Mr. Koo was not at all times a authorities critic. As a younger man rising up in Macau, a Portuguese colony that returned to Chinese management in 1999, he was lively in a Communist Party-linked labor union and favored to hearken to patriotic “red songs,” mentioned Tsang Kin-shing, a pal and fellow activist. But after China’s Communist Party despatched troops to crush pro-democracy demonstrations round Tiananmen Square in 1989, Mr. Koo turned in opposition to Beijing.
Like many opposition activists in his era, the Tiananmen crackdown formed Mr. Koo’s political beliefs. He and others noticed the wrestle for democracy in Hong Kong as intently sure with such efforts in mainland China. They held annual vigils for these killed in 1989, which had been attended by tens of 1000’s at their peak in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park till they had been successfully banned in current years.
In 2012, he was certainly one of a group of activists who landed on uninhabited islets in the East China Sea claimed by each Tokyo and Beijing. They had been detained by the Japanese Coast Guard and despatched again to Hong Kong, the place they arrived to a heroes’ welcome. The group’s members mentioned the protest was meant to indicate that the Communist Party didn’t have a monopoly on patriotism in China.
For a time, the views of Mr. Koo’s era of activists had been discounted by youthful Hong Kong activists who’ve expressed little curiosity in the political destiny of the remainder of the nation, or who’ve even referred to as for Hong Kong’s independence from China. But such variations have pale since Beijing accelerated its crackdown on the territory, fueling broader solidarity throughout the opposition motion.
Mr. Koo was not prosecuted underneath the nationwide safety regulation, however moderately a colonial-era sedition regulation. Before the present crackdown, the sedition regulation had final been used in the Nineteen Sixties. The most potential sentences are shorter: two years in jail, versus life imprisonment underneath the safety regulation. But the sedition regulation allows the authorities to focus on smaller protests criticizing the authorities that don’t contain different alleged legal acts, which is commonly a part of safety regulation prosecutions.
Going after such small-scale speech crimes will proceed to wreck the repute of the federal government, and undermine the efforts of its new chief, John Lee, to advertise Hong Kong as an open, worldwide metropolis, mentioned Thomas E. Kellogg, government director of the Center for Asian Law at Georgetown University.
“The Lee administration will find it hard to convince anyone in the international community that it is serious about maintaining Hong Kong’s vaunted rule of law when as it continues to prosecute activists like Koo and so many others,” Mr. Kellogg mentioned.
Joy Dong contributed reporting.