HONG KONG: A teenage Hong Kong democracy activist was charged on Thursday with secession, the first public political figure to be prosecuted under a sweeping new national security law Beijing imposed on the city.
Tony Chung, 19, appeared in court two days after he was arrested by plainclothes police in a Hong Kong coffee shop opposite the US consulate, also charged with money laundering and conspiring to publish seditious content.
He was remanded into custody until his next court hearing on January 7 and faces a possible life prison sentence if convicted under the new law.
Chung is a former member of Student Localism, a small group that advocates Hong Kong’s independence from China.
The group said it disbanded its Hong Kong network shortly before Beijing blanketed the city in its new security law in late June but kept its international chapters going.
The legislation — a response to huge and often violent pro-democracy protests that swept the city last year — outlawed a host of new crimes, including expressing certain political views such as advocating independence or greater autonomy for Hong Kong.
Chung and three other members of Student Localism were first arrested by a newly created national security police unit in July on suspicion of inciting secession via social media posts.
On Thursday, Amnesty International said the charges showed authorities were wielding the law to criminalise peaceful political expression.
“The intensifying attack on human rights in Hong Kong has been ramped up another notch with this politically motivated arrest in which a peaceful student activist has been charged and detained solely because the authorities disagree with his views,” said Joshua Rosenzweig, head of Amnesty’s China team.
The United States also condemned Chung’s arrest.
“The use of the National Security Unit of the Hong Kong Police Force for the detention of a minor in a coffee shop is reprehensible,” said a State Department spokesperson.
Aiming for US consulate?
Speculation has swirled that police moved on Chung because he was hoping to ask for asylum at the US consulate in Hong Kong.
A little-known group calling itself Friends of Hong Kong put out a statement shortly after Chung’s arrest on Tuesday saying it had been trying to arrange for Chung to enter the US consulate that day and seek sanctuary.
AFP was not able to independently verify the group’s claim and Chung has been unable to comment because he has remained in police custody.
His bail conditions from his first arrest prevented him from leaving Hong Kong.
Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2020