A Hong Kong pro-democracy protester was sentenced to nine years in prison Tuesday in the first prosecution under the country’s new national security law, The Associated Press reported.
Tong Ying-kit was convicted on charges of inciting secession and terrorism for driving his motorcycle into a group of police officers at a July 2020 rally, carrying a flag adorned with the banned slogan, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” The Associated Press reported.
Tong pleaded not guilty to the charges and was sentenced Friday to six-and-a-half years and eight years, respectively, which judges ruled could be served concurrently for nine years.
Tong’s case is the first prosecution under Hong Kong’s national security law enacted by President Xi Jinping’s government after protests broke out in mid-2019 to tighten the Chinese Communist Party’s control over the former British colony and semi-autonomous state, AP reported. Critics of the law say it is being used as a tool to crack down on dissent in opposition to the Chinese regime.
His lawyers said his flag didn’t encourage secession and that he did not mean to drive his motorcycle into the police officers at last year’s rally, The Hill reported. The prosecution requested Tong serve three years, but he could have gotten a maximum of a lifetime prison sentence, AP reported.
“The punishment must have as its aim a general deterrent effect on the community as a whole, as well as a specific deterrent effect on the individual in question,” the three judges wrote in their opinion, The Hill reported.
Tong’s trial occurred without a jury under rules that the country’s common law system can be overruled in the interest of protecting state secrets under the national security law, AP reported.
Tong’s sentencing “confirms fears that the national security law is not merely a tool to instill terror into government critics in Hong Kong; it is a weapon that will be used to incarcerate them,” Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra said in a statement.
She said the ruling is a “move that represents a hammer blow to freedom of speech” and that the national security law “lacks any exemption for legitimate expression or protest.”
“In one year, the National Security Law has put Hong Kong on a rapid path to becoming a police state and created a human rights emergency for the people living there,” Mishra said in a statement about the brief.
She outlined a “climate of fear” caused by the legislation that “threatens to make the city a human rights wasteland increasingly resembling mainland China.” Earlier in the week, she said the conviction felt “like the beginning of the end for freedom of expression in Hong Kong.”
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