Leon Tong Ying-kit, 24, a former bartender, became the first person to be convicted under Hong Kong’s dreaded National Security law on Tuesday, and now faces a possible life sentence. The judges have held him responsible for the charges of terrorism and secessionism – both can be punished with life imprisonment – and did not accept an alternative charge, that of dangerous driving. After the verdict, the final sentence will be announced later.
This case is of key importance in determining how the new law, imposed by Beijing last year after protests against China that paralyzed the autonomous enclave in 2019, should be interpreted.
The young man had been the first detainee under the National Security law, on the first day of the measure after its promulgation on June 30 of last year. On July 1, the anniversary of the return of the former British colony to Chinese sovereignty, the Police had banned the protest march traditionally held on that date. Tong appeared on one of the avenues in the center of the city, in front of a strong police presence in riot gear, riding a motorcycle on which he wore a black flag with the slogan “Free Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Era”, the motto of the 2019 demonstrations.
The Hong Kong government considers that this slogan has pro-independence connotations, and those who use it commit a crime. Supporters of the demonstrations maintain that the slogan – which during the demonstrations was chanted through the streets, was inscribed on posters and appeared on all kinds of merchandising of support to the protests – it only represents a mere call to maintain freedoms in the enclave.
Prosecutors accused Tong of crashing his motorcycle into three policemen. They also alleged that the motto on the flag was pro-independence. The defendant had pleaded not guilty to all charges.
At the hearing held this Wednesday, the three-judge court appointed by the head of the autonomous Executive, Carrie Lam, aligned itself with the Government’s thesis and considered it proven that the slogan has separatist intent. That decision will have implications for free speech in Hong Kong, already undermined, according to opposition supporters, after a series of arrests and sanctions forced the shutdown of the pro-democracy newspaper. Apple Daily.
“When the defendant unfolded the slogan the way he did, he wanted to convey to others the secessionist meaning of the slogan, and he intended to incite others to perpetrate secession by separating (Hong Kong)” from China, Judge Esther Toh has written in a summary. of the principles that support the verdict. The court has also ruled that Tong’s bypassing the traffic barriers and running over the three officers was “a deliberate defiance of the Police, a symbol of law and order in Hong Kong,” which has caused “ a serious damage to society ”.
Since Tong’s arrest, 117 people have been detained on charges under the National Security Law, of which at least 64 have been formally charged. The measure punishes up to life imprisonment for separatism, terrorism, subversion of the powers of the State and conspiring with foreign forces.