The National Times - Hong Kong police arrest six for sedition over court 'nuisance'

Hong Kong police arrest six for sedition over court 'nuisance'

Hong Kong police arrest six for sedition over court 'nuisance'
Hong Kong police arrest six for sedition over court 'nuisance'

Six people accused of causing a nuisance in a Hong Kong courtroom found themselves arrested for sedition Wednesday, as local authorities continue to ramp up use of the colonial-era law against critics.

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Court disruptions are usually dealt with under contempt rules but authorities have chosen to deploy sedition, a charge treated as a national security offence.

Police said four men and two women aged between 32 and 67 were arrested over behaviour at court hearings between December and January.

The suspects "purposely caused nuisance" while attending the hearings and "severely affected jurisdictional dignity and court operations", police said in a press release.

The statement did not detail what specific behaviour or actions were deemed to be seditious.

Hong Kong's courts have become gathering places for democracy supporters as authorities prosecute thousands of activists and protesters following citywide protests in 2019.

Most hearings are open to the public, and democracy supporters often applaud or shout words of encouragement to defendants appearing in the dock.

Hong Kong judges have previously chastised spectators for their behaviour and warned they could be in contempt of court, but none had been arrested before Wednesday.

Police said they seized records that allegedly show the suspects "conspiring" to commit disruptive acts in court, after searching their residences.

Siew Yun-long, a citizen journalist known for his court reporting, was among those arrested, his family confirmed to AFP.

Leo Tang, a former leader of the now-disbanded Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), was also arrested, according to local media.

The HKCTU is among scores of civil society groups and government-critical local news outlets that have shuttered following a sweeping national security law that was imposed by Beijing in 2020 to stamp out dissent.

Police have arrested around 170 people under the security law, including opposition lawmakers, activists, journalists and students.

Authorities have also increasingly relied on sedition, a legacy law that until recently had not been deployed in decades.

The offence carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail.

In recent months, sedition charges have been brought against pro-democracy unionists who produced euphemistic children's books; journalists from now-shuttered pro-democracy news outlets; and people critical of the government's response to the pandemic.