Hong Kong Protester Is Sentenced to 9 Years in First Security Law Case
HONG KONG – A Hong Kong court on Friday sentenced a protester to nine years in prison for terrorism and inciting secession, underlining the power of a sweeping new national security law to deter those who might denounce the authorities.
The protester, Tong Ying-kit, had been sentenced to life in prison after being sentenced earlier this week. The case against Mr. Tong, who crashed into a motorbike with police officers while waving a flag in protest, was the first to fall under the security law, imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese central government on last year.
His case has heightened concerns among activists and legal experts that the security law is transforming Hong Kong’s justice system, which is separate from that of mainland China. They fear cherished civil and political rights will be violated in an attempt to eradicate the kind of unrest and widespread opposition that were seen in the city during months of mass protests in 2019.
The power to interpret the security law rests with Beijing, and some observers say that the outcome of Mr. Tong’s trial shows how the courts in Hong Kong will have less room to weigh individual rights in the process. review of security-related charges.
“So far, the government has led the table on NSL cases, both on key procedural issues and now on guilty verdicts,” said Thomas Kellogg, executive director of the Georgetown Center for Asian Law, using an abbreviation for the National Security Act. “It’s not a good sign that the courts will be able to tone down the worst elements of the NSL.”
Mr. Tong, 24, was arrested on July 1 last year after colliding with police officers while riding his motorcycle, which was mounted with a flag bearing a popular protest slogan. Three officers were injured.
He was held for a year without bail. Instead of facing a jury, as is customary for serious crimes in Hong Kong, he was tried by a panel of three judges, all from a panel of jurists selected by the Hong Kong CEO. Kong, Carrie Lam, to hear security law cases.
Mr. Tong’s lawyers admitted that he had driven dangerously, but said his actions did not constitute terrorism. They noted that he was carrying first aid supplies and that he had planned a lunch with friends near the scene of his collision with the police.
During the 2019 protests, the slogan on Mr. Tong’s banner – “Free Hong Kong, revolution of our time” – was widely chanted, written on signs and spray painted on the walls. Defense witnesses argued that the phrase did not have a unique and specific meaning, but rather expressed a broad desire for fundamental change.
But the court ruled that a call to separate Hong Kong from China was one of the primary meanings of the phrase, and that the context of Mr. Tong’s motorcycle ride – in which he repeatedly challenged the police the day after the entry into force of the security law – showed that he intended to convey this secessionist message.
Lawyers said this finding would be important not only for other cases involving the slogan “Free Hong Kong”, but for a range of languages that will now be analyzed for illegal meanings.
“This is a green light for the prosecution to pursue more ambitious prosecutions in the future,” said Surya Deva, associate professor of law at the City University of Hong Kong. “People will be more careful with what they say and what they write, because everything could be supported by the government as being able to have this sense of inciting secession.”
More than 130 people have been arrested under the security law over the past year and more than 60 have been charged. Most of those awaiting trial are charged with non-violent offenses. They include dozens of opposition politicians who prosecutors say have committed subversion by trying to win an election, take control of the Hong Kong legislature and block the government’s agenda.
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