A pro-democracy Hong Kong radio DJ was jailed for 40 months on Wednesday for “seditious speech” under a British colonial-era law authorities have embraced as China flattens dissent in the city.
Tam Tak-chi, 49, is among a growing number of activists charged with sedition, a previously little-used law that prosecutors have dusted off in the wake of massive and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests in 2019.
The DJ’s sentencing was aggravated because his seditious speech continued after China imposed a national security law on Hong Kong in 2020, Judge Stanley Chan said Wednesday while announcing the punishment.
“Live long, mother, wait for me,” Tam shouted afterwards as he was taken away from the court.
Better known by his moniker “Fast Beat”, Tam hosted a popular online talk show that backed democracy and was highly critical of the government, often using colourful language.
He was a regular presence at the city’s pro-democracy protests and often set up street booths to deliver political speeches.
Prosecutors accused Tam of inciting hatred against the authorities by chanting the popular protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times”, cursing the police force, and repeatedly shouting “Down with the Communist Party”.
Judge Chan said Tam was “just a 50-year-old coarse man railing recklessly” in pursuit of a well-paid seat in the Hong Kong legislature.
“My conviction affects Hong Kong people’s freedom of speech,” he wrote.
His 40-month prison sentence may not be the end of his legal troubles — he has been denied bail in a separate national security case.
Tam’s trial was the first since Hong Kong’s 1997 handover in which a sedition defendant pleaded not guilty and fought through a full trial.
His conviction and sentencing will set precedents for a host of upcoming sedition prosecutions as China remoulds Hong Kong in its own authoritarian image.
Sedition, with a maximum penalty of two years in jail, is separate from the city’s security law, but the courts now treat it with the same severity as acts that endanger national security.