The first person to stand trial under Hong Kong’s national security law pleaded not guilty to charges of terrorism and inciting secession as his trial began on Wednesday.
Tong Ying-kit was arrested on 1 July last year, just a day after the controversial national security law came into effect.
Mr Tong, 24, was accused of driving his motorcycle into a group of police officers during protests while bearing a flag with the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times.”
The slogan is now deemed illegal under the security law, with the city government saying last year that it suggests separatism or subversion.
Apart from charges of terrorism and inciting secession, he also faces an alternative charge of dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm. Mr Tong has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
His case is being watched keenly in Hong Kong because it could indicate how courts will deal with other cases under the law.
Al Jazeera’s Divya Gopalan, who is reporting from Hong Kong, said that many are “watching for clues on how security cases will be conducted” and there are already concerns “this case will undermine the rule of law in Hong Kong.”
Mr Tong’s case has been seen as a departure from Hong Kong’s common law traditions because he has been denied bail and the Court of Appeal on Tuesday upheld a decision to deny him a trial by jury. The court cited a threat to the personal safety of jurors and their family members, according to Reuters.
The trial is expected to last 15 working days, local media reports said.
The national security law carries a maximum penalty of life in prison for serious offenders.
China says the law is aimed at tackling separatist activity, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, but it has been widely criticised by human rights groups who say it is a tool to crush dissent.
More than 100 people in Hong Kong have been arrested under the national security law.
In another case, the newsroom of Hong Kong pro-democracy paper Apple Daily has been raided and its assets frozen under the law. The newspaper has now announced that it will close by this weekend after police arrested five editors and executives.