Tong Ying-kit, 24, was sentenced to six and a half years in prison for inciting secession for carrying a large black banner with the popular anti-government protest slogan: “Free Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Time.” . “
He was also sentenced to eight years in prison for committing terrorist activities, for hitting his motorcycle with a group of police officers last year, injuring three. Of these, 2.5 years will be consecutive, for a total duration of nine years.
The National Security Law, promulgated by Beijing on June 30 last year, criminalizes acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. All of them carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
As the sentence was read, some of Tong’s supporters in the public gallery shed tears while others encouraged him, telling him to “hold on”, to which Tong responded, “you guys too. , hold on tight ”.
Tong’s defense lawyers had previously requested a minimum three-year sentence, arguing that Tong had been reckless but had not deliberately wanted to run into the police and had shown remorse for his actions.
However, in Tuesday’s sentencing decision, the three judges – handpicked by the city chief to oversee national security matters – ruled that Tong’s actions had caused “great harm to society” and posed a “deliberate challenge to the police.” ”
An alternative charge of dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm was not considered.
Much of Tong’s 15-day trial had relied on the judge’s interpretation of the protest flag he carried, with the prosecution and defense arguing over the semantics, history and context of the banner’s slogan. – a common rallying call during the pro-democracy, anti-government protests of 2019.
On Tuesday, judges made it clear that the slogan was “intended to communicate secessionist meaning” and was “capable of inciting others to commit secession”, potentially laying the groundwork for future convictions linked to the former protest movement of mass.
A test case
As the first trial under the new legislation, Tong’s case has been widely seen as a litmus test for how the law will be implemented in court in the months to come.
Tong had pleaded not guilty to all charges, which stemmed from an incident on July 1, 2020, just one day after the law was passed. Tong was denied bail and his trial proceeded without a jury, a significant departure from the common law traditions that the Hong Kong legal system had previously followed.
On Monday, police arrested 138 people and charged 76 under the law. Those arrested include students, activists, former lawmakers, journalists and lawyers.
The Hong Kong government has repeatedly denied that the law’s vague parameters were used to censor free speech or stifle political dissent. City leader Carrie Lam defended the law as a “crucial step to end the chaos and violence” of the 2019 protest movement and ensure “long-term stability and prosperity in Hong Kong.”
Rights groups and legal experts, however, criticized Tong’s conviction, saying it laid the groundwork for further criminalizing forms of free speech. “I don’t want to lose sight of the individual, but a lot of that, of course, concerns the potential chilling effect going forward, in an already very freezing atmosphere,” said Maggie Lewis, an attorney based at Taiwan. professor at Seton Hall University.
According to Lewis, Tong’s sentence was not about how “tolerant or restrictive” authorities would be under the security law, but rather “a matter of emphasis” to provide an example to the public.
In many ways, the message had already been sent with Tong’s conviction on Tuesday, Lewis said.
“In reading the judgment, the court did not leave any safeguards so far as to clarify a safe space for expressing political views different from those of the Hong Kong and Beijing governments,” Lewis said.
“It’s now part of the fabric of understanding national security law. It is not something that is done in isolation, it will now be put on a shelf, it will be referenced by lawyers (and the general public), ”she added. .