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Hong Kong student gets five-years for Telegram ‘secession’ messages

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A Hong Kong judge increased a university student's jail sentence to five years for messages sent on Telegram advocating the city's independence from China and calls to resist communist rule

A Hong Kong judge increased a university student’s jail sentence to five years for messages sent on Telegram advocating the city’s independence from China and calls to resist communist rule – Copyright AFP DENIS CHARLET

A Hong Kong judge increased a university student’s jail sentence to five years on Friday for messages sent on Telegram advocating the city’s independence from China and calls to resist communist rule.

Lui Sai-yu, a 25-year-old engineering student, pleaded guilty to “incitement to secession”, a crime under the national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020 to crush dissent.

Lui is the fourth person jailed under the law, while over 100 other prosecutions are ongoing.

District judge Amanda Woodcock said Lui’s posts — sent to a channel on messaging app Telegram — showed he “condoned, promoted, advocated and incited others to commit secession or undermine national unification”.

The court earlier heard that Lui’s messages include “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” — a protest slogan now deemed illegal.

Hong Kong’s national security law imposes minimum jail terms for serious offences, a feature rarely seen in the city’s common law tradition.

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Woodcock initially jailed Lui for 44 months — factoring in a sentence reduction due to his guilty plea — but prosecutors called for a harsher punishment, arguing the minimum penalty for secession under the security law was no less than five years.

The judge then amended the sentence.

Defence lawyer Edwin Choy said Woodcock’s original punishment had already reflected the seriousness of the crime.

Choy told the court that the prosecutors’ proposal of a harsher sentence “might not seem the fairest way to deal with this young man”.

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Georgetown University legal scholar Eric Lai called the sentencing “bizarre”, reflecting the tension between the security law and Hong Kong’s existing criminal justice system.

The security law has created a class of special courts and local judges have not remedied such “disturbing practices”, Lai wrote on Twitter.

Lui was first arrested in September 2020, when police raided his flat and found a pepper ball gun, two knives, a baton and protective gear associated with democracy protesters.

Lui’s weapon charges were later dropped as part of a plea deal.

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AFP has contacted the Department of Justice for comment but has so far not gotten a response.

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Facebook Adds New Groups Engagement Options, Including New Side Bar Access to Latest Group Updates

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Facebook Adds New Groups Engagement Options, Including New Side Bar Access to Latest Group Updates

Hey, have you noticed a sudden influx of notifications about Facebook groups in your News Feed this week?

You’re not alone, with Facebook kicking off a new push on groups, that will include a new, dedicated notifications space for groups in the sidebar of the app, and more options for smaller discussions within group spaces.

First off, on the new sidebar sorting option for groups – Facebook’s testing a new listing of the groups that you’re a member of that will be accessible by swiping right from your main News Feed.

As you can see in these images, the new listing will display all of the groups that you’re a part of, which will be displayed in order based on the latest activity.

The sidebar display will also include a range of group engagement options, including the capacity to pin your favorite groups, discover new groups, or create your own from the prompts. There’ll also be links to events, shops and more, making it easier to get involved in each groups element.

That could make it much easier to stay on top of the latest group chats, which could be a great way for Facebook to boost user engagement, and get more users sharing more often in the app.

Which has become a problem of late. Reports have suggested that Facebook engagement has dropped significantly, particularly among younger audiences, as TikTok interaction has continued to rise, with internal data from Meta showing that usage among users aged 18-24 has basically flatlined completely in the app.  

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Groups, however, remains a key engagement surface, and if Facebook can find new ways to showcase groups, and prompt more users to engage with those discussions, that could be another way to maximize in-app activity, even if they don’t feel compelled to respond to what they see in their main feed.

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In addition to this, Facebook’s also adding some new, smaller sub-group engagement options, with Community Chat Channels, audio rooms and topic feeds within group.

Community Chat Channels will enable group members to chat in real-time across both Facebook Groups and Messenger.

“So when you’re in your new BBQ lovers group and need real-time feedback while attempting your first brisket, an admin can create a chat for that.”

Facebook Groups update

So it’s messaging groups for Group members, adding another way to spark different types of engagement with the Groups setting.

Community Audio Channels meanwhile is Facebook’s own answer for Clubhouse, where admins and members can join real-time audio conversations in the app.

Facebook Groups update

Facebook initially launched its live audio rooms with verified public figures, creators and selected groups last year, but now, all groups will be able to host live audio rooms to facilitate topical engagement in the app.

Which is probably a little behind the times, given the declining interest in Clubhouse and other audio social options. But a big challenge for Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces has been discovery, and highlighting the most relevant rooms to each user in real time, which Facebook can improve on by only highlighting rooms to people who are already group members, ensuring more relevance for its live audio notifications.

Community Audio Channels will be available within Facebook Groups and on Messenger, providing alternate access points to tune in.

UPDATE: Facebook says that Community Audio Channels are different from Live Audio Rooms, with Community Audio Channels being an ‘always-on space’ that admins can create, in which admins and members can hop in and out of real-time conversations. Which, functionally, seems much the same, but Facebook has sought to clarify this point.

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And finally, Facebook’s also adding Community Feed Channels, providing a way to highlight more specifically relevant group discussions and elements to community members.

Facebook Groups update

“Admins can organize their communities around topics within the group for members to connect around more specific interests. For example, if you’re in a BBQ lovers group, there could be a feed channel where you can post and comment on the topic of smokers.”

So rather than getting every update from every group that you’ve joined, you’ll be able to select specific discussion topics that you’re interested in, with group admins then able to categorize posts and updates to feed into these more refined channels, and ideally improve engagement.

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They’re some interesting additions, none of which are likely to transform how you engage with Facebook groups, but each providing a more customizable, easy-to-access stream of groups to stay informed and interact with.

And again, if Facebook can better highlight the most engaging, most relevant groups and group content, that could be a great way to maximize the potential of its groups tools, which now arguable generate more engagement potential than the main feed.

You may not like the political content in your News Feed, or the updates from relatives and long-lost school friends. But maybe, through this, Facebook can show you more discussions within groups that you do want to see, which could help to boost time spent in the app.

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