© Reuters. A prison car arrives as a police station for the arrival of Tong Ying-kit, the first person indicted under a new national security law, in Hong Kong, China on July 30, 2021. REUTERS / Tyrone Siu
By James Pomfret and Sara Cheng
HONG KONG (Reuters) – The first person convicted under Hong Kong's national security law was sentenced to nine years for terrorist activities and incitement to secession, judges said Friday in a turning point ruling with long-term implications for the city's judicial landscape.
Former waiter Tong Ying-kit, 24, was accused of riding his motorcycle into three riot police last year while carrying a flag with the protest slogan "Liberate Hong Kong. Our Time Revolution".
Judges Esther Toh, Anthea Pang and Wilson Chan – chosen by city guide Carrie Lam to hear national security cases – ruled Tuesday that the slogan was "able to encourage others to secede".
On Friday, judges sentenced Tong to 6.5 years for inciting secession and 8 years for terrorist activities. Of these, 2.5 years run in a row, which results in a total term of 9 years.
"We believe that this overall time limit should adequately reflect the guilt of the accused in the two offenses and the abomination of society, while at the same time achieving the required dissuasive effect," said a written judgment.
Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have criticized Tong's conviction, saying it sets new limits on freedom of speech and sets precedents for the trial, which they believe are contrary to Hong Kong customs.
Tong was denied bail under a provision of the national security law that requires the defendants to prove that if released, they would not pose a security threat. Tong was also not given a jury trial for "a perceived threat to the personal safety of the jurors and their family members or the impairment of the proper administration of justice."
The Hong Kong government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hong Kong and Chinese authorities have repeatedly stated that all the rights and freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997 are intact, but national security is a red line. All cases have been handled in accordance with the law, both governments said.
At a pre-judgment hearing on Thursday, attorney Clive Grossman pleaded forbearance, saying that any incitement was "minor" and that Tong was a "decent young man" who had done something "stupid".
Tong, who pleaded not guilty on all charges, was also found guilty of terrorist activities, with judges saying his motorcycle was a potentially lethal weapon and his actions were "a deliberate challenge to the police".
An alternative charge of dangerous driving with serious bodily harm was not considered.
Tong's trial mainly focused on the meaning of the slogan that was ubiquitous during the 2019 Hong Kong mass protests.
Arguments about their interpretation drew on subjects such as ancient Chinese history, the U.S. civil rights movement, and Malcolm X.
The judges said Tuesday they were "certain that the defendant fully understood the slogan in order to carry the meaning of Hong Kong's independence". Tong did not testify during the trial.
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