First person to be tried under Hong Kong National Security Law convicted of secessionism and terrorism

An armed policeman escorts a van (behind) carrying Tong Ying-kit as he arrives at West Kowloon court in Hong Kong on July 6, 2020.

Isaac Laurent | AFP | Getty Images

The first person to be tried under Hong Kong’s broad national security law was convicted of secessionism and terrorism on Tuesday.

The Hong Kong High Court delivered the verdict in the Tong Ying-kit case, 24. He is accused of riding his motorcycle in a group of police officers while carrying a flag bearing the protest slogan “Free Hong Kong, revolution of our time” on July 1 last year, a day after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on Hong Kong after months of anti-government protests in 2019.

The verdict has been closely watched for indications of how similar cases will be handled in the future. More than 100 people have been arrested under security legislation.

Tong has pleaded not guilty to the charges of inciting secession, terrorism and an alternate charge of dangerous driving. He faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted.

The trial, which ended on July 20, took place in the High Court without a jury, under rules allowing this exception to Hong Kong’s common law system if state secrets are to be protected, whether Foreign forces are involved or the personal safety of jurors must be protected. Trials are presided over by judges handpicked by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.

Tong’s defense attorney said it was impossible to prove that Tong was inciting secession simply by using the slogan.

The defense also said that there was no evidence that Tong committed the act willfully, avoided crashing into officers, and that his actions could not be considered terrorism since he there had been no serious violence or harm to society.

While Hong Kong has its own Legislative Council, Beijing’s ceremonial legislature imposed the National Security Law on the semi-autonomous city after determining that the body was unable to pass the legislation itself. due to political opposition.

This followed increasingly violent protests in 2019 against China’s growing influence over city affairs, despite pledges to allow the city to maintain its own system for 50 years after the 1997 transfer of the city. British rule.

The Chinese legislature has called for changes in the composition of the city’s Legislative Council to ensure an overwhelming pro-Beijing majority, and demanded that only those it determines “patriots” can hold office.

Authorities have banned the protest slogan “Free Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Time”, saying it has secessionist overtones. Library books and school curricula have also been investigated for alleged secessionist messages.

Hong Kong’s last pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, was forced to close its doors last month and a court denied the release on bail of four editors and journalists on charges of endangering national security in the framework of growing repression.

Beijing dismissed the criticism, saying it was only bringing order to the city and instituting the same type of national security protections that other countries have.

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