The first person to be tried under Hong Kong”s controversial national security law has been found guilty of secession and terrorism.
Tong Ying-Kit was charged after driving his motorcycle into a group of police officers last year, carrying a flag bearing the banned protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.”
Tong, a 24-year-old restaurant worker, pleaded not guilty to the charges, arguing the slogan itself does not call for secession.
On Tuesday, he was found guilty of the charges and now faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. His lawyers are expected to argue for a lighter punishment at his sentencing hearing Thursday.
Rights groups have condemned his conviction and are bracing for further such trials, which
More than 100 people have been arrested under the legislation, part of Beijing’s increasing crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong following months of anti-government protests in 2019.
All the major pro-democracy figures have either been jailed, sought asylum abroad, or been intimidated into silence.
Reading the verdict, Justice Esther Toh said Tong “committed terrorist activities causing or intended to cause grave harm to the society” in pursuit of a political agenda.
His behavior was an act of violence aimed at coercing the central and Hong Kong governments and intimidating the public, she added.
Tong’s defense lawyer has said it’s impossible to prove that the suspect was inciting secession merely by having used the slogan.
The defense also said there is no evidence that Tong committed the act deliberately, that he tried to avoid crashing into officers and that his actions couldn’t be considered terrorism since there was no serious violence or harm to society.
The verdict was immediately condemned by Amnesty International, which called it “the beginning of the end for freedom of expression in Hong Kong.”
“People should be free to use political slogans during protests, and Tong Ying-kit should not be punished for exercising his right to free speech,” said Asia-Pacific Regional Director, Yamini Mishra.
“It is particularly clear that he should never have been charged with a ‘national security’ offense carrying a possible life sentence.”
Beijing has dismissed criticisms, saying it is merely restoring order to the city.