Hong Kong protester sentenced to 9 years for violating China’s national security law


A pro-democracy protester was sentenced to nine years in prison on Friday in the first closely watched prosecution under Hong Kong’s national security law as the ruling Communist Party tightens control over the territory.

Tong Ying-kit, 24, was convicted of inciting secession and terrorism for riding his motorbike in a group of police officers during a rally on July 1, 2020. He carried a flag bearing the forbidden slogan: “Free Hong Kong, revolution of our time”.

President Xi Jinping’s government imposed law on the former British colony last year following protests that erupted in mid-2019. Beijing has rolled back western civil liberties in the territory and tried to crush a pro-democracy movement by jailing activists. The role of the public in choosing Hong Kong lawmakers has been reduced.

Critics accuse Beijing of violating the autonomy promised when Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 and destroying its status as a global business center. Human rights activists say the security law is being abused to attack legitimate dissent.

Tong’s sentence was longer than the three years required by the prosecution. He risked maximum life imprisonment.

Tong’s conviction is a “hammer blow against freedom of expression” and shows that the law is “a tool to sow terror” among critics of the government, said Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific regional director, Yamini Mishra, in a statement.

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The law “has no exemption for legitimate expression or protest,” Mishra said. “The judgment at no time took into account Tong’s rights to freedom of speech and protest.”

The US government, in a statement, criticized the “unfair outcome” of Tong’s trial and said the security law had been used “as a political weapon to silence dissenting voices.” He said China is undermining rights guaranteed by Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, and the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on Returning the Territory.

He called on Beijing to “stop targeting individuals exercising their rights and freedoms.”

FILE - In this file photo from July 6, 2020, Tong Ying-kit arrives in court in a police van in Hong Kong.  Tong lawyer sentenced under Hong Kong National Security Act on Thursday, July 29, 2021, requested a maximum prison term of 10 years instead of the possible life sentence incurred by the former restaurant waiter in a closely watched case as China tries to crush a pro-democracy movement.  (AP Photo / Vincent Yu, file)

FILE – In this file photo from July 6, 2020, Tong Ying-kit arrives in court in a police van in Hong Kong. Tong lawyer sentenced under Hong Kong National Security Act on Thursday, July 29, 2021, requested a maximum prison term of 10 years instead of the possible life sentence incurred by the former restaurant waiter in a closely watched case as China tries to crush a pro-democracy movement. (AP Photo / Vincent Yu, file)
(AP Photo / Vincent Yu, file)

Chinese officials dismiss the criticism and say Beijing is restoring order and instituting security protections like other countries. More than 100 people have been arrested under the security law.

Defense attorneys said Tong’s sentence should be light because the court did not find the attack was deliberate, no one was injured and the secession-related offense was considered minor in view. of the law.

Tong nodded but said nothing after Judge Esther Toh announced the sentence of a three-judge panel at the Hong Kong High Court. The former restaurant waiter wore a black shirt and tie with a blue blazer as he had done throughout his trial.

As Tong walked out of the courtroom, onlookers shouted, “We will be waiting for you!

After the court adjourned, a spectator shouted at senior defense counsel Clive Grossman, “Mr. Grossman, appeal! Another lawyer, Lawrence Lau, said Tong thanked the Hong Kong public for their support.

Judges sentenced Tong on Tuesday, ruling that his actions were aimed at intimidating the government and the public. He said carrying the flag was an act of inciting secession, rejecting defense arguments that Tong could not be proven to incite secession simply by using the slogan.

Tong was sentenced to eight years for inciting secession and six and a half years for terrorism, with a concurrent sentence to be served for a total of nine years, said Toh, the judge.

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Tong expressed remorse, but that did not count towards reducing his sentence as he did not plead guilty, the judges said in a written decision. They said he had “good character” and no criminal record, but that because of the “serious offenses” these would not lessen the sentence.

The sentence reflects “the horror of society”, according to the judgment.

Tong’s trial proceeded without a jury under rules that allow an exception to Hong Kong’s British-style common law system if state secrets need to be protected or if foreign forces are involved. The judges were chosen by Hong Kong Managing Director Carrie Lam.

The protests began against an extradition law proposed by Lam’s government and expanded to include other grievances and demands for more democracy. At their peak, thousands of people held marches and rallies every weekend.

Hong Kong’s last pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, closed its doors last month after journalists and executives were arrested. Its owner, Jimmy Lai, is serving a 20-month prison sentence and faces charges of colluding with foreigners to endanger national security.

Also last year, the Hong Kong Legislative Council was reorganized to ensure a majority for allied figures in Beijing. The rules for elected officials have been tightened to force them to be considered patriots.

Last November, the 15 remaining pro-democracy lawmakers resigned after four were expelled for urging foreign governments to impose sanctions on China and Hong Kong following the Beijing crackdown.

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The United States stopped treating Hong Kong as a separate trading territory, citing its reduced autonomy. Washington has imposed financial and travel sanctions on the leaders of China’s ceremonial legislature. Canada, Australia and other governments have suspended extradition treaties with the territory over security law.

In December, 10 pro-democracy activists and protesters who tried to flee to Taiwan by speedboat were sentenced by a continental court in the southern city of Shenzhen to prison terms ranging from seven months to three years.

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