The slogan “Liberate Hong Kong” says that “for some people independence”, says the political scientist about the first national security process
The controversial protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Time” gives “some people” supporters of independence, said a local political scientist in the city’s first national security process.
Tuesday was the twelfth day of the trial of 24-year-old Tong Ying-kit in the Hong Kong Supreme Court under the Beijing-imposed national security law. He is accused of “inciting secession” and “terrorist activities” as an alternative accusation to the terrorist offense “causing serious bodily harm by dangerous driving”.
High Court. Photo: Kelly Ho / HKFP.
Tong was the first man to be arrested and prosecuted under comprehensive security laws after allegedly ramming three police officers on a motorcycle with a flag that read “Liberate Hong Kong, Our Time Revolution” during a protest in Wan Chai on July 1 .
The high-profile trial, set to end on Friday, will be handled by a three-person panel comprised of Madam Justices Esther Toh and Anthea Pang and Justice Wilson Chan, who were designated to hear national security cases. Tong is represented by Lawyer Lawrence Lau and Senior Counsel Clive Grossman.
The process that could bring Tong to a life behind bars, if convicted, revolved around the slogan, which was declared illegal by the government last July for implying “pro-independence, secessionist and subversive”.
On Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Anthony Chau continued to grill defense witness Eliza Lee, Professor of Politics and Public Administration at Hong Kong University (HKU). Lee first appeared in court last Friday.
Eliza Lee. File Photo: The University of Hong Kong.
Chau asked Lee about former localist leader Edward Leung’s campaign in 2016, when he ran against six other candidates in the New Territories East by-election.
Lee stated in her report that she found the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Time” – “improvised” by Leung in his campaign, to be “ambiguous” and open to multiple interpretations.
She went on to say that it was important for Leung – a member of the local Hong Kong Indigenous group – to come up with a “catchy” slogan that people could use to remember him since he was not a well-known politician like some of them other candidates.
Leung eventually lost the race to former Civic Party member Alvin Yeung, who won 160,880 votes. However, the then university student managed to get hold of 66,524 ballot papers.
Prosecutors asked if Lee agreed with her history expert Lau Chi-pang’s conclusion that the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong” is for independence. The HKU politics professor replied that the words “for some people” could have such connotations, adding that there was often a “significant subjective element” to understanding a slogan.
A protest flag with the portrait of former localist leader Edward Leung and the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time”. Photo: Etan Liam, via Flickr.
“Effective slogans invite people to add their own meaning to a situation.” said Eliza Lee, referring to a quote by the American political scientist W. Lance Bennett, which was used in a report she co-authored.
In Tuesday’s trial, US ministerial and human rights activist Malcolm X was approached again by prosecutors because Leung quoted his famous 1964 speech – The Ballot or the Bullet – in his 2016 campaign speech.
Prosecutor Chau asked Lee if she viewed Malcolm X as a secessionist or a separatist and said he was a member and a leader of the Nation of Islam, which Chau called a “black separation group.”
In response, Lee asked where Chau got such information from and asked if they should venture into the complicated race issues in the United States. The judges also stopped Chau from continuing his questioning of Malcolm X, saying that the American figure may or may not be viewed as a secessionist, “far, far from the problems in court.”
Edward Leung. File Photo: Tom Grundy / HKFP.
“We don’t see the importance of such a cross-examination. Keep in mind that Professor Lee already has it [testified] that Edward Leung was an advocate for Hong Kong independence, ”said Justice Pang.
LegCo as a means to “overthrow” the government
Prosecution witness Lau Chi-pang of Lingnan University previously testified that the former localist leader saw ballot papers as a weapon with the ultimate goal of “changing the regime” if elected to the legislature.
When asked if she agreed with Lau’s analysis, Eliza Lee doubted the feasibility of any person to overthrow the government by holding a seat on the LegCo.
“Indigenous Hong Kong’s did not have a single seat in the legislature. If we had any idea how limited the function of the Hong Kong Legislative Council is … how can a person [by] get a seat in the legislature, allow him to overthrow the government? asked Eliza Lee.
The prosecutor pressed further and asked if Leung could enter the legislature “as a means to achieve his goals”. Lee said she needed to see an action plan from Leung, adding that many local groups and figures campaigning for Hong Kong independence do not have a “specific plan of action”.
Legislative Council. Photo: Kelly Ho / HKFP.
Chau then cited an interview Lee gave to local online news agency Citizen News in August last year when the government announced it would postpone LegCo polls in 2020, citing Covid-19 risks.
Lee told Citizen News at the time that pandemocratic lawmakers should remain in the legislature so that government laws would not be “easily” passed without opposition. In addition, “strategic considerations” are more important than questions about the legislator’s mandate through the extension of the term of office.
Chau asked if what Leung was trying to do was similar to the idea Lee proposed – using the legislature as a means to achieve his goals. The political scientist replied, “Why do you have to quote me to find out what Leung wanted to do? Are you saying that I’m with Leung? “
She added that she felt Chau was “putting” [her] in court, ”which Ms. Justice Pang clarified and said that the prosecution had no such intention.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers are announcing their collective resignation after Beijing passed a decision authorizing local authorities to evict four Democrats with immediate effect. Photo: Democratic Party.
Lee later said the context of collective resignation from pro-democracy lawmakers was “very different” from Leung’s by-elections, adding that she could not represent Leung when he said whether joining the LegCo was one of his strategies.
Prior to the completion of the cross-examination of Eliza Lee, Chau told the court that prosecutors found the empirical data produced by the defense experts to be “unreliable” and “irrelevant”.
The prosecutor said he would reserve questions about the data to the defense’s second expert, Francis Lee, director of the Chinese University’s School of Journalism and Communication (CUHK).
The journalism scholar was summoned to court Tuesday afternoon and said he was responsible for handling the empirical data used in a report he co-authored with HKU professor Eliza Lee.
The CUHK professor explained in detail how he carried out a quantitative study on the contributions and comments in the local LIHKG discussion forum. With the help of a computer program, the research examined the number of times keywords such as “liberate Hong Kong”, “revolution of our time”, “five demands” and “independence of Hong Kong” were mentioned.
Francis Lee will appear in court on July 13, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho / HKFP.
Francis Lee also conducted a qualitative study with focus groups that included 40 people, where participants were asked to discuss the 2019 protest movement. He said the study enabled researchers to understand how people got the tagline.
The journalism professor said there were three “general groups” – made up of supporters of the 2019 democracy movement of different sexes and from different age groups and social classes. The remaining four groups were “more homogeneous,” said Lee, consisting of youth, social workers, media workers and school teachers.
Judge Wilson Chan asked how Francis Lee could ensure that participants were “telling the truth,” but Lee said the focus of the study was on observing how people gave their opinions rather than examining how true their views were.
Lee added that interpreting the meaning of the tagline is an “ongoing process” that can change over time. He cited the example of a participant in a focus group who said he did not initially sing the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong” because he thought it had connotations for independence. But this individual changed his mind over the course of the protests, thinking that the phrase did not express an intention to overthrow the government.
The hearing was interrupted at 4:30 p.m. The court will proceed with Francis Lee’s testimony on Wednesday.