Hong Kong Man Sentenced To Prison Under Nation Security Law

After being convicted of secession and terrorism for smashing his motorcycle into police officers while flying a protest banner, the first person accused and prosecuted under Hong Kong's harsh national security law was sentenced to nine years in prison.

A three-judge panel designated by Hong Kong's leader to handle national security matters convicted Tong Ying-kit, a 24-year-old former waitress, on Tuesday. He was sentenced to six and a half years in prison for secession and eight years in prison for terrorism on Thursday, with two and a half years of the latter term to be served concurrently.

The case comes as China continues to tighten down on virtually every kind of dissent to its authority over Hong Kong. A trial for a radio DJ accused of sedition — under seldom used colonial-era statutes – over statements made during the 2019 demonstrations began on Thursday.

Police announced on Friday that they had detained an 18-year-old for calling for a boycott of sponsors on a pro-Beijing TV station and that they had begun an inquiry into those who booed the Chinese national anthem during a public Olympics broadcast.

Tong was convicted guilty of terrorism and inciting secession after smashing his motorbike into three riot police officers and flying a flag on the vehicle with the protest slogan "Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times."

Thousands of Hongkongers came to the streets in protest on July 1, 2020, little than 24 hours after the national security law was adopted, and were greeted with a strong police response. Tong said the incident was unintentional.

His offences were serious and separatist in character, according to the judges, and were not lessened by his role as a breadwinner for his family or his regret, given that he had pleaded not guilty.

“We believe that this total sentence should adequately represent the defendant's responsibility in the two offences as well as the defendant's abhorrence of society while also achieving the requisite deterrence effect,” the sentencing noted.

Much of Tong's trial was devoted to debating the meaning of the phrase "Liberate Hong Kong," which was widely used during major protests in 2019.

The justices found the phrase to be separatist because it was "capable" of being understood as such, setting a high bar for cases of speech offences under the national security statute.

Even though Tong's case was "not the worst of its kind" since he acted alone in issuing a "general appeal" for independence without any specific strategy, the judges concluded that it exceeded the threshold for a severe felony carrying a statutory punishment of five to ten years in prison.

Legal experts predicted that the implementation of the national security bill would have a significant chilling impact on Hong Kong.

“It sends a strong message to everyone in Hong Kong that... in a specific circumstance or a politically sensitive context, any slogans or expressions that are not in support of the government will be interpreted as capable of inciting secession and endangering national security,” said Eric Lai, a Hong Kong law fellow at the Georgetown Center for Asian Law.