Hong Kong court jails martial artist for recruiting band of ‘subversive’ fighters

3 Min
Hong Kong court jails martial artist for recruiting band of ‘subversive’ fighters

A Hong Kong court has jailed martial arts instructor Denis Wong Tak-keung for five years after finding him guilty of “subversion” in connection with social media posts that the authorities said “incited hatred” of the government.

Wong, 60, had earlier pleaded guilty to one count of “incitement to subvert state power” under Hong Kong’s national security law, while he and his assistant Cheung Man-ji, 62, both pleaded guilty to one count each of “illegal possession of a firearm.”

Wong’s five-year jail term came after he was accused of trying to form an armed separatist movement, by recruiting people to his “Ghost Assassins training class” via Facebook.

But the initial charge of “sedition” and four other weapons charges didn’t eventually appear on his charge sheet.

Instead, prosecutors applied to upgrade the charge to one under the security law at the District Court, ensuring he would face a heavier sentence of up to seven years in jail.

Police photos handed out to journalists at the time of Wong’s arrest in March 2022 showed crossbows seized during a raid on his martial arts studio.

Police claimed the pair were training a clandestine force to overthrow the government and set up an independent state – armed with crossbows, airguns and their bare hands.

‘Combat tai chi’

The center had allegedly trained students in “combat tai chi,” and police said they had seized an airgun, eight crossbows, 30 steel-tipped arrows and a collection of blades from the premises.

While the defense called for leniency due to a lack of prior convictions or previous psychological issues, District Court Judge Ernest Lin ruled out a customary one-third sentence reduction for defendants who plead guilty, saying Wong’s actions represented a “serious” violation of the national security law.

Cheung was handed a 16-month jail term for the weapons charge.

Lin found that Wong’s social media posts were “designed to rekindle dissatisfaction and disgust with the Hong Kong police, the Hong Kong government and the Chinese government, and to achieve the overthrow of the Hong Kong government by advocating martial arts skills and weapons training.”

He said the fact that Wong had nearly 6,000 followers at the time of his Facebook posts meant that his posts would likely have gone viral.

Lin said Wong had made 39 “subversive” posts across a 21-month period, and had rented out a venue to hold his training class, as well as “hoarding weapons” to implement his plan.

The martial arts training center also housed a “shrine” to “martyrs and acts of insurrection,” deliberately inciting hatred against the government among anyone who went there, Lin said, adding that around 20 people had signed up for Lin’s martial arts classes.

He said there was no evidence that Wong’s plan had affected society, but said that Hong Kong was in the aftermath of the 2019 protest movement — during which police were widely criticized for their violence towards mostly unarmed protesters — and that some people were still “irrational and gullible.”

Wong’s posts had “fueled long standing grievances” and tarnished the reputations of both Hong Kong and China, Lin found.

The national security law — imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong from July 1, 2020 — ushered in a citywide crackdown on public dissent and criticism of the authorities that has seen several senior journalists, pro-democracy media magnate Jimmy Lai and 47 former lawmakers and democracy activists charged with offenses from “collusion with a foreign power” to “subversion.”

Martial arts societies in southeastern China once acted as the seedbed of an attempt to overthrow the Qing Dynasty during the Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901, which aimed to purge China of foreign colonial incursion and influence.

—a RFA report