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Hong Kong scraps early release for national security convicts

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HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s leader said Tuesday that people convicted on national security charges would no longer be eligible for early release for good behaviour, under a new law enacted by the city’s authorities over the weekend.
His comments came after local media reported that democracy activist Ma Chun-man, who was convicted in 2021 for “incitement of secession” and was expected to be released Monday, had been held back.
Hong Kong’s massive and at times violent pro-democracy protests in 2019 brought hundreds of thousands to the streets demanding greater autonomy from Beijing.
In response, authorities cracked down on protesters and Beijing imposed a national security law in 2020, which was supplemented by a new homegrown one enacted over the weekend.
“It’s been made very clear that if a prisoner is serving a sentence in respect to his conviction of an offence endangering national security, the prisoner is not entitled to remission,” leader John Lee said Tuesday about the new law when asked about Ma’s case.
Commonly referred to as “Article 23“, the law also applies to those sentenced before it was passed, he said.
“The ordinance has also made it clear that the new rule applies no matter if the sentence of the prisoner was imposed before or after the commencement of the relevant amendment,” Lee said, adding exceptions could be made by the correctional services commissioner.
The new law came into force Saturday — two days before Ma’s scheduled release — putting into immediate effect tough penalties of up to life imprisonment for certain national security crimes, including treason and insurrection.
The new law also amended Hong Kong’s prison rules, removing a possible one-third sentence reduction due to good behaviour for prisoners convicted of crimes of either the security law or other offences deemed national security threats by authorities.
Ma, 34 — nicknamed “Captain America 2.0” for carrying a replica of the Marvel superhero’s shield at protest rallies in 2019 — was convicted of “incitement to secession” in 2021.
He had successfully appealed to reduce his sentence by nine months to five years in 2022 as appeal judges deemed his culpability as “relatively low”.
Under the new law, Ma would have to remain behind bars for another 20 months.
“This is exactly telling everyone –- do not attempt to carry out any acts or activities that endanger national security as remission is generally not allowed. Do not challenge the law,” Lee said Tuesday.
Lee, who was Hong Kong’s security chief during the protests and sanctioned by the United States for his role, added that anyone unsatisfied with the decision “can seek through legal avenues for a court’s adjudication”.
The Correctional Services Department declined to comment on individual cases.
“The Commissioner… will consider the actual circumstances of the case and all relevant factors, including the prisoner’s representation,” the department said in a statement Monday.

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