Leon Tong Ying-Kit, the first to be convicted under the dreaded Hong Kong National Security Act, will face nine years in prison. The sentence was handed down on Friday, three days after judges found the 24-year-old guilty of the crimes of inciting secession and terrorism for having thrown against three police officers the motorcycle he was driving during a demonstration, in which he was carrying a banner with the slogan “Free Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Era”.
In sentencing, the three judges imposed on the former waiter a sentence of 6.5 years in prison for the crime of inciting secession and another eight years for terrorism. Although most of them will be served simultaneously, a total of 2.5 years of terrorism will be for a later period, which totals nine years in prison. The judges stated that “the total length of the sentence sufficiently reflects the defendant’s culpability in his two crimes and society’s revulsion at the same time to achieve the necessary deterrent effect.”
The young man was the first detained under the National Security Law, on the first day of the measure’s entry into force after its enactment on June 30 of last year. On July 1, the anniversary of the return of the former British colony to Chinese sovereignty, police banned the protest demonstration traditionally held on that date. Tong appeared on one of the avenues in the center of the city, on his motorcycle, in front of a strong presence of armed riot police, and attacked three of the officers. The motto on a black flag was the massive demonstrations that paralyzed the former colony in 2019, which were dubbed “the umbrella revolts”, which called for democracy in the enclave.
The judges, appointed by the Autonomous Government especially for this case, determined that the slogan had pro-independence connotations, while the defense witnesses stated that “Free Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Era” had been constantly shouted during the demonstrations, was graffiti throughout the city and had no special significance, other than claiming the system of freedoms that China had pledged to respect in the enclave until at least 2047.
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Freedom of expression
The court’s ruling will have implications for freedom of expression in Hong Kong, which has already been hampered, according to opposition supporters, after a series of arrests and sanctions forced the closure of the pro-democracy newspaper. Apple Daily. From now on, journalists, companies or anyone else may want to think twice before issuing an opinion in public that could be interpreted as disrespecting the National Security Law. Unlike other regulations in the enclave, the final interpretation of this law rests with Beijing.
Since Tong’s arrest, 117 people have been detained on charges falling under the National Security Law, of which at least 64 have been indicted. The measure even punishes life imprisonment for separatism, terrorism, subversion of state powers and conspiracy with foreign forces.
The sentence against the young man coincides with the announcement by the police that an investigation had opened after a crowd gathered in a shopping center last Monday to see the presentation of an Olympic gold medal to the Hong Kong fencer Edgar Cheung and booed the Chinese national anthem played during the ceremony. Hong Kong’s National Anthem law provides penalties of up to three years in prison for anyone who disrespects the music.
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