Former bartender Tong Ying-kit, 24, was charged with crashing his motorcycle into three riot police while carrying a protest flag.
The first person charged under Hong Kong’s national security law was found guilty of “terrorism” and “incitement to secession” in a landmark case with long-term implications for how the legislation reforms the city’s common law traditions.
An alternative charge of dangerous driving causing serious bodily injury was not considered in Tuesday’s ruling. The Superior Court will hear mitigation arguments Thursday and the ruling will be announced at a later date.
Former waiter Tong Ying-kit, 24, was accused of crashing his motorcycle into three riot police officers while carrying a banner with the protest slogan: “Free Hong Kong, revolution of our time”, which according to the prosecutors was secessionist.
The long-awaited ruling, much of which has depended on the interpretation of the slogan, imposes new limits on freedom of expression in the former British colony. Pro-democracy activists and human rights groups have also criticized the decision to deny Tong bail and a jury trial, which have been key features of Hong Kong’s rule of law.
His trial was presided over by Judges Esther Toh, Anthea Pang and Wilson Chan, chosen by city leader Carrie Lam to hear national security cases.
Toh read a summary of the ruling in court, saying that “such display of words was capable of inciting others to commit secession.”
He added that Tong was aware of the secessionist meaning of the slogan and that he intended to communicate this meaning to others. He also had a “political agenda” and his actions caused “serious damage to society.”
In a statement, Amnesty International’s regional director for Asia and the Pacific, Yamini Mishra, called the ruling a “sinister moment” for human rights in the city.
“This feels like the beginning of the end for free speech 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 freedom of expression, ”Mishra said.
Hong Kong Free Press quoted Tong’s lawyers as saying that it is still considering whether to file an appeal.
Question of secessionism
Tong had pleaded not guilty to all charges, which arose out of the events of July 1, 2020, shortly after the enactment of the law.
The trial focused primarily on the meaning of the slogan, which was ubiquitous during the Hong Kong mass protests in 2019. It was chanted in the streets, posted online, scrawled on walls, and printed on everything from brochures, books. , stickers and t-shirts to coffee mugs.
Tong Ying-kit’s representatives Clive Grossman and Lawrence Lau left the Superior Court; Grossman said he had not yet read the reasoning, but Tong is still considering whether to file an appeal. https://t.co/SFJcxvqPlI pic.twitter.com/9ok6NtIjkg
– Hong Kong HKFP Free Press (@hkfp) July 27, 2021
Discussions drew on a variety of topics, including ancient Chinese history, the US civil rights movement, and Malcolm X, to determine whether the catchphrase was secessionist.
Two expert witnesses summoned by the defense to analyze the slogan’s meaning, based on sources including a survey of some 25 million online posts, found “no substantial link” between the slogan and Hong Kong’s independence.
The Beijing and Hong Kong governments have repeatedly said that the security law was necessary to bring stability after the often violent protests of 2019 and that the rights and freedoms promised to the city following its return to Chinese rule in 1997 remain intact.
The law, imposed by Beijing in June 2020, punishes what China views as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
The government says that all prosecutions have been handled independently and in accordance with the law, and that enforcement actions have nothing to do with the political stance, background or profession of those arrested.