Former Hong Kong Public Chiropractic Secretary General Huang Zhi Feng and social activist Gus Yao were released on bail Wednesday, with Huang not allowed to leave Hong Kong.
Police say he was arrested on October 5 last year on suspicion of illegal assembly and violating the No Masking Law, and that he was also arrested on the same day on suspicion of participating in an illegal assembly. The case against Huang Zhifeng and Gu was arraigned at the Eastern Magistrates’ Court in Hong Kong on September 30, and the defense adjourned the case until December 18, during which time they were each granted bail of HK$1,000, with Huang Zhifeng barred from leaving Hong Kong.
Huang and Koo were charged with unlawful assembly, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Huang is also charged with wearing a mask at an unauthorized gathering, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine of up to HK$25,000 (US$3,222).
Outside the court, Huang said, “We just want to send a clear message to the world that even if they arrest us, prosecute us, or even throw us in jail, we have no reason to give up.”
Huang Zhifeng, 23, is one of the highest-profile activists in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests and the founder and secretary general of the now-defunct Hong Kong Public Chi. The rally Huang attended last October 5 was prompted by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s announcement that an emergency ordinance would be used to pass a law banning people from covering their faces in public. The purpose of this measure was to facilitate police verification of the faces of protesters.
The law banning masking was challenged by 24 opposition lawmakers. In April, the Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling in favor of the 24 lawmakers, declaring that the Emergency Regulations were constitutional, but that the government did not have the authority to prohibit the wearing of masks during lawful demonstrations and police did not have the authority to remove them.
Both the opposition camp and the judiciary have filed applications for appeal, and the Court of Final Appeal will hear the applications on November 24 and 25. Huang Zhifeng’s hearing on the alleged violation of the anti-masking law was postponed until Dec. 18 to allow the defense to give further legal advice and to request more documents related to the case from the prosecution.
Huang Zhifeng visited Europe and the United States in 2016 and 2019, calling on Western society to support Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement against Beijing’s tightening grip on the territory. During the days when he was barred from leaving Hong Kong, Huang Zhifeng made the same call via social media platforms.
Huang’s actions are believed to have angered Beijing, which has called him the “black hand” of a foreign power reaching out to Hong Kong.
A new security law imposed by the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong this year punishes with up to life imprisonment any act that China considers subversion, separatism, terrorism, or collusion with foreign powers.
Huang Zhifeng’s most recent arrest, last Thursday, drew criticism from the European Union, which described the police action as “the latest in a series of disturbing arrests of pro-democracy activists since this summer” and questioned China’s willingness to live up to its international commitments.