HONG KONG: The first person convicted under Hong Kong’s national security law was jailed for nine years on Friday for terrorist activities and inciting secession, judges said, in a watershed ruling with long-term implications for the city’s judicial landscape.

Former waiter Tong Ying-kit, 24, was accused of driving his motorcycle into three riot police last year while carrying a flag with the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our times.” Tong’s lawyer, Clive Grossman, told reporters outside the court the defence would appeal both the verdict and the sentence. He made no further comment.

Tong did not testify during the trial. After sentencing, however, he urged Hong Kongers to keep persevering like the city’s trail-blazing Olympic Games gold and silver medallists, Cheung Ka-long and Siobhan Haughey.

“Hang in there everyone, just like Hong Kong’s athletes,” Tong’s lawyer, Lawrence Lau, quoted him as saying.

Judges Esther Toh, Anthea Pang and Wilson Chan - picked by city leader Carrie Lam to hear national security cases - ruled on Tuesday that the slogan was “capable of inciting others to commit secession”.

On Friday, the judges sentenced Tong to 6-1/2 years for inciting secession and eight years for terrorist activities. Of these, 2-1/2 years will run consecutively, resulting in a total term of nine years. “We consider that this overall term should sufficiently reflect the defendant’s culpability in the two offences and the abhorrence of society, at the same time, achieving the deterrent effect required,” they said in a written judgment.

Human rights groups criticised Tong’s conviction, saying it imposes new limits on free speech, as well as the precedents set by the trial, which they say contrast with Hong Kong’s common law traditions.

Amnesty International’s Yamini Mishra said in a statement the sentencing showed the 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.” Prominent exiled Hong Kong activist Nathan Law said the lengthy sentence was “outrageous”.

“Tong is not a terrorist, Hong Kong protesters are not terrorists. The Hong Kong government uses this stigmatization to discredit the democratic movement and justify its suppression.” The Hong Kong government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the accusations but security secretary Chris Tang told reporters he welcomed the sentence.

“The court has ruled that the slogan connotes Hong Kong independence,” Tang said. “If you say this slogan, you need to bear the consequences.”

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2021

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