Joseph John denied bail; Ministry of Foreign Affairs “accompanying situation”
A 40-year-old Portuguese citizen is being held in custody in Hong Kong accused of sedition for “ allegedly publishing seditious articles online disparaging Beijing and local authorities”.
This story is all the more complicated for the fact that everyone named in it sounds British when in fact they are Chinese.
Joseph John – whose Chinese name is Kin Chung Wong – appeared before a court in West Kowloon yesterday where he applied for bail in front of a magistrate described as “hand picked by the city’s leader to adjudicate national security cases”.
Various outlets name the magistrate as Peter Law (which sounds very Anglo-Saxon) but South China Morning Post (SCMP) carries a photograph of Peter Law, who is clearly a Chinese man, with the added information that his full name is Peter Law tak-Chuen.
This hand-picked magistrate “found insufficient grounds to believe the accused would not commit further national security offences if he was temporarily released”, says the SCMP.
That last sentence does not bode well. “Temporarily released” suggests decisions may already already been made.
To explain the case a little more: Joseph John holds Portuguese citizenship but lives in London. He works with the Royal College of Music as a project engineer.
He travelled back to Hong Kong very recently, ostensibly to take care of his mother who has dementia, says the SCMP.
It will have been during this time that he published posts that authorities have deemed to have seditious intent on the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Telegram and website of the Hong Kong Independence Party.
The Hong Kong Independence Party was created in 2014, registered as a political party in UK in 2015 but ‘de-registered in November 2018’, says SCMP.
Here, Expresso adds that Hong Kong prosecutors have asked for the case to be delayed for 12 weeks, until January 26, so that police can investigate Joseph John’s three mobile phones, his laptop computer and his bank account.
There will be the opportunity of the defendant once again to request bail on November 11, says the paper.
“In its last report, the NGO Freedom House defined Hong Kong as a partially free territory”, Expresso continues. “It is one of the worst places in the world for freedom of expression, particularly since implementation of the National Security Law, in 2020.
“The legislation was only known after it was approved: it criminalises a series of acts that involve criticism of the government, and it opens the door to any suspect being judged in China.
“Since coming into force, several citizens, journalists and political opponents of the current regime have been arrested under this law”.
It is this law that Peter Law cited in refusing Joseph John’s application for bail yesterday.
Now, enter stage right Portugal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has intimated that it is “aware of the detention of a citizen holding a Portuguese passport in Hong Kong.
“At the moment, the ministry, through the Consulate General of Portugal in Macau, is making efforts with Hong Kong authorities to ascertain more elements about this case, as well as informing accordingly the family, from which contact has been received,” said an official government source.
None of this sounds very promising. Sedition is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment for a first offence under the Crimes Ordinance, says SCMP, but “the Court of Final Appeal has defined it as one capable of endangering national security” (which presumably carries the possibility of a tougher sentence).