First person to be jailed under national security law in Hong Kong gets nine years

·3-min read
Tong Ying-kit on a motorcycle while carrying a flag reading "Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our times" during a protest in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020 - Cable TV Hong Kong
Tong Ying-kit on a motorcycle while carrying a flag reading "Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our times" during a protest in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020 - Cable TV Hong Kong

A former waiter received a nine-year prison sentence on Friday for crashing into riot police while carrying a protest flag, making him the first person to be jailed under Hong Kong’s draconian new national security law

Tong Ying-kit was convicted on Tuesday of inciting secession and terrorism for driving his motorcycle into three officers while holding a flag with a banned slogan, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.”

The incident happened during a rally on July 1 last year – the day after Beijing imposed the national security law on the city in response to massive anti-government protests the year before.

The law criminalises anything Beijing deems to be subversive. China says it was needed to restore stability in the financial hub, while critics say it is reducing Hong Kongers’ freedoms and reshaping the city in China’s authoritarian image.

  • Mass arrests. Newspaper raids. Banned protests. Exiled activists. The Telegraph's new podcast, Hong Kong Silenced, documents how life in the city has been turned upside down in the past year under the national security law. Listen to all episodes now wherever you get your podcasts. telegraph.co.uk/hksilenced

Tong’s case has been widely condemned as "the end for freedom of expression" by rights activists, and has raised concerns about the precedent it will set.

The 15-day trial was heard without a jury, and the three judges were handpicked by Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam.

On Friday, they sentenced the former waiter to six-and-a-half years for inciting secession and eight years for terrorist activities, a charge that is becoming increasingly common in Hong Kong.

Of these, two-and-a-half years will run consecutively, meaning a total of nine years’ imprisonment. He had faced up to life in prison.

Tong, who had denied all charges, looked calm in the courtroom while his mother and sister wept.

"Hang in there, everyone," he shouted as he was led out of the dock.

Tong Ying-kit pictured arriving at court in July 2020 - Vincent Yu /AP
Tong Ying-kit pictured arriving at court in July 2020 - Vincent Yu /AP

Tong’s defence lawyer told the court the 24-year-old former waiter was genuinely remorseful about the incident, describing him as a "simple-minded and kind-hearted person as well as a filial son" in letters to the judges.

But the court said that his good character had no “mitigating value”.

“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 judges said.

Outside the court, there was a heavy police presence, with officers also stopping and searching young people who came near the area.

Police stop and search young people outside the High Court. - TYRONE SIU /REUTERS
Police stop and search young people outside the High Court. - TYRONE SIU /REUTERS

Four people also held placards in support of the government that said: "Heavy sentences for terrorist activities. Stop secession."

Also on Friday, Hong Kong police said they would investigate booing of China’s national anthem as dozens of people gathered in a shopping mall to watch Hong Kong win its first Olympic gold medal in 25 years on Monday night.

A law passed last June made it illegal to insult the Chinese anthem. Offenders face up to three years in jail and fines as high as HK$50,000 (£5,160).

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