A Hong Kong man who often carried a “Captain America” shield and became a fixture of pro-democracy protests that swept the semi-autonomous city in 2019 has been sentenced to more than five years in prison.
Ma Chun-man, a 31-year-old food delivery driver known in the protest movement as “Captain America 2.0” after the comic book hero of the same name, was convicted last month by a judge of inciting secession for chanting pro-Hong Kong independence slogans and displaying placards, as well as comments made to reporters.
His conviction was the second under a sweeping national security law imposed by mainland China on the city last year as a response to widespread protests. The law has been widely criticised as a means of purging political opponents and crushing the individual freedoms Hong Kong maintains under an agreement between China and former coloniser Britain, set to end in 2047.
Ma’s conviction and lengthy sentencing are particularly significant because it indicates the approach authorities will likely take as a slew of trials under the new law, which bans anything Beijing views as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion, head to court.
Unlike in the case of Tong Ying-kit, who was the first person convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison for allegedly riding his motorbike into police while flying a protest flag, Ma’s case did not involve violence.
“It’s hard to guarantee that other people incited by him won’t become another Ma Chun-man,” Stanley Chan, a judge specially chosen by the government to try national security cases, said on Thursday.
“Whether he used violence, whether he defied the law enforcers, whether his ideas got others’ recognition – all these are not important,” Chan added.
‘I am not ashamed’
Ma is accused of chanting”liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” and “Hong Kong independence, the only way out”.
Authorities also seized a notebook titled “Captain America’s Diary of Resistance” during their investigation.
In a handwritten letter to the court, Ma called himself “a man with no dream” who found inspiration in the pro-democracy rallies at shopping malls.
“I am not ashamed or regretful of what I have done,” he wrote.
Prior to the sentencing, defence lawyer Edwin Choy called for leniency, saying Ma’s slogans and chants were empty words with no great impact. Ma did not commit violent acts and was not someone who would promote violence, Choy argued.
More than 100 people, including many of the city’s most prominent opposition politicians and activists, have been charged under the security law. Most have been denied bail.
On Thursday, Amnesty International decried Ma’s sentence “outrageous” and said restrictions on freedom of expression in Hong Kong were “dangerously disproportionate”.
“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,” said Amnesty’s Deputy Secretary-General Kyle Ward.