HONG KONG — In the first prosecution under Hong Kong’s national security law, a Hong Kong Protester was sentenced to nine years in jail on Friday, as the governing Communist Party tightens its grip on the territory.
Tong Ying-kit, 24, was found guilty of inciting secession and terrorism after crashing his motorbike into a group of policemen at a demonstration on July 1, 2020. He was waving a flag with the prohibited phrase “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times,” which he was carrying.
Following demonstrations that erupted in mid-2019, President Xi Jinping’s government enforced the legislation on the former British colony last year. Beijing has curtailed the territory’s Western-style civil rights and attempted to suffocate a pro-democracy movement by imprisoning activists. The public’s influence on Hong Kong lawmakers has dwindled.
Beijing is accused by critics of breaching the autonomy given to Hong Kong when it returned to China in 1997, therefore jeopardizing the city’s reputation as a global financial hub. Human rights advocates claim that the security statute is being exploited to suppress genuine protest.
Tong’s sentence was lengthier than the prosecution’s request of three years. He risked a potential sentence of life in jail.
According to Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific regional director, Yamini Mishra, Tong’s sentence is a “hammer blow to free expression” and demonstrates that the legislation is “a weapon to sow dread” among government opponents.
According to Mishra, the rule “lacks any exception for lawful expression or protest.” “At no stage in the decision was Tong’s right to freedom of speech and protest taken into account.”
In a statement, the US government criticized Tong’s trial for its “unjust outcome” and said the security law was used “as a political weapon to silence dissenting voices.” It also said China is undermining rights guaranteed by Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, and the 1984 Chinese-British Joint Declaration on the territory’s return.
Beijing was urged to “stop persecuting those who are exercising their rights and freedoms.”
Chinese authorities dismiss the criticism, claiming that Beijing is restoring order and putting in place security safeguards similar to those in other nations. More than a hundred individuals have been detained as a result of the security bill.
After Judge Esther Toh of the Hong Kong High Court pronounced the judgment for a three-judge panel, Tong nodded but said nothing. Throughout his trial, the former restaurant server wore a black shirt and tie with a blue blazer.
“We will wait for you!” onlookers screamed as Tong was taken out of the courthouse. ”
“Mr. Grossman,” a spectator screamed at lead defense lawyer Clive Grossman after the court had adjourned. Grossman, you have the right to appeal! ” According to another lawyer, Lawrence Lau, Tong thanked the Hong Kong public for their support.
On Tuesday, the judges found Tong guilty, saying that his acts were intended to intimidate the government and the people. It ruled that waving the banner was an act of secession encouragement, dismissing defense claims that Tong couldn’t be found guilty just by uttering the slogan.
Tong received an eight-year sentence for inciting secession and a six-and-a-half-year term for terrorism, with some time served consecutively for a total of nine years, according to Toh, the judge.
Tong expressed regret, but the judges stated in a written judgment that it didn’t go toward lowering his sentence since he didn’t plead guilty. They said he had an “excellent reputation” and no criminal record, but it would not be enough to lessen the punishment owing to the “severe crimes.”
According to the decision, the punishment shows “societal abhorrence.”
Tong’s trial was held without a jury, according to regulations that enable an exemption to Hong Kong’s British-style common law system if state secrets or foreign forces are involved, and the judges were chosen by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
Thousands of people marched and rallied every weekend throughout the protests, which began over Lam’s government’s planned extradition bill and quickly extended to encompass other complaints and calls for more democracy.
Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s final pro-democracy daily, closed down last month after writers and executives were detained; its owner, Jimmy Lai, is serving a 20-month jail sentence for collaborating with foreigners to threaten national security.
Last year, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council was reorganized to give Beijing-allied politicians a majority, and rules for elected officials were tightened to make them patriotic.
After four pro-democracy lawmakers were expelled for pushing foreign countries to impose sanctions on China and Hong Kong for Beijing’s crackdown, the remaining 15 pro-democracy legislators resigned in November.
Due to the security law, the United States stopped treating Hong Kong as a separate territory for trade purposes, citing its reduced autonomy, and imposed travel and financial sanctions on leaders of China’s ceremonial legislature. Canada, Australia, and other countries suspended extradition treaties with the territory.
In December, a mainland court in the southern city of Shenzhen sentenced ten pro-democracy activists and demonstrators to prison sentences ranging from seven months to three years for attempting to flee to Taiwan by speedboat.