Hong Kong (Associated Press) – As the ruling Communist Party strengthens its control of Hong Kong, a pro-democracy protester was sentenced to nine years in prison in the first indictment that was closely watched under Hong Kong’s National Security Law on Friday.
Tong Yingjie, 24, was convicted of inciting secession and terrorism for driving a motorcycle into a group of police officers at a rally on July 1, 2020. He held a banner with the words “Recover Hong Kong, Revolution of the Times”.
After protests erupted in mid-2019, President Xi Jinping’s government last year imposed a national security law on the former British colony. Beijing tried to suppress the pro-democracy movement by imprisoning key activists and weakened the public’s role in choosing the Hong Kong government.
Tang’s sentence was announced by the Trial Chamber composed of three judges from the Hong Kong High Court, which was longer than the three years required by the prosecutors. No more than 10 appeals from the defense lawyer. The highest possible he faces is life imprisonment.
Critics accuse Beijing of violating the autonomy and Western civil liberties promised by Hong Kong when it returned to China in 1997, and undermining its status as a commercial center. Human rights activists say that security laws have been abused to attack legitimate dissidents.
Yamini Mishra, the director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific region, said in a statement that Tang’s verdict was a “heavy blow to freedom of speech”, indicating that the law was “a tool to instill terror into government critics.” “.
Mishra said the law “does not have any exemptions for legal expressions or protests.” “The judgment did not take into account the children’s right to freedom of speech and protest at any time.”
Officials refuted the criticism, saying that Beijing is restoring order and establishing security measures like other countries. According to the security law, more than 100 people have been arrested.
The defense lawyer said that Tang’s punishment should be lightened because the court did not determine that the attack was intentional and that no one was injured. The separatist-related crimes are minor crimes in accordance with the law.
After the sentence was pronounced, Tong nodded slightly without speaking. Throughout the trial, he wore a black shirt and blue suit jacket and tie.
When he was taken out of the courtroom, bystanders chanted: “We are waiting for you!”
After the court adjourned, a bystander shouted to his chief defense attorney, Clive Grossman: “Sir! Grossman, appeal!”
The judge ruled on Tuesday that Tang’s behavior was a violent act designed to intimidate the Hong Kong and mainland governments and intimidate the public. The statement stated that raising the flag was an act of inciting secession, refuting the defense’s argument that the use of slogans alone can prove Tang’s argument for inciting secession.
If there is a need to protect state secrets or involve foreign powers, Tong’s trial is conducted without a jury. This rule allows exceptions to the British common law system in Hong Kong. The judges are selected by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
The crackdown came after the protest started. The protest started with the extradition law proposed by the Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor government and expanded to include other dissatisfaction and demands for more democracy. In their heyday, thousands of people held parades and rallies every weekend.
Last month, Hong Kong’s last democratic newspaper, Apple Daily, closed after reporters and executives were arrested. Its owner, Lai Zhimei, is serving 20 months in prison and is facing more accusations of colluding with foreigners to endanger national security.
Also last year, Hong Kong’s legislature reorganized to guarantee a majority of seats for Beijing’s allies. Regulations on elected officials have been tightened, requiring them to be considered patriotic.