Tong Ying-kit, 24, was charged and declared guilty of inciting secession and terrorism on Tuesday. Hong Kong’s High Court slapped him with the nine-year jail term on Friday, making him the first person imprisoned under the new law.
He was arrested on 1 July last year, on the first day the law came into force, and accused of driving his motorcycle at a small group of police officers while displaying a flag with the slogan: “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.” The slogan has been popular in pro-democracy protests in the city.
Tong had pleaded not guilty to the charges, arguing the slogan itself does not call for secession.
The three judges, handpicked to handle national security cases by the city’s pro-Beijing chief executive Carrie Lam, wrote in their judgement that the “display of the words was capable of inciting others to commit secession,” adding that the defendant understood the slogan to carry a secessionist meaning.
The charges levied against Tong meant he could have faced a maximum punishment up to life imprisonment. The national security law was enacted by the Chinese Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on 30 June 2020 and triggered widespread protests across Hong Kong.
Responding to the sentencing, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific regional director Yamini Mishra said: “The sentencing of Tong Ying-kit to nine years confirms fears that the national security law is not merely a tool to instil terror into government critics in Hong Kong; it is a weapon that will be used to incarcerate them.”
On the alleged secessionist meaning of the slogan, Amnesty’s Ms Mishra said: “The ruling essentially outlaws a popular slogan widely used by the pro-democracy movement and could enable future convictions of numerous other protesters who used it. This point alone is a deeply ominous sign of what the national security law will bring in the future.”
According to the organisation, between 1 July 2020 and 29 July 2021 police arrested or ordered the arrest of at least 138 people in relation to the national security law. So far, 68 people have been formally charged, including 51 who are in pretrial detention.
A research briefing released by Amnesty last month said the law has decimated Hong Kong’s freedoms and created a landscape increasingly devoid of human rights protections.