A pro-democracy protester was sentenced to nine years in prison on Friday in the first closely watched case under Hong Kong’s National Security Act as Beijing tightens control over the territory.
Tong Ying-kit, 24, was convicted of inciting secession and terrorism for riding his motorcycle in a group of police officers during a rally in July 2020.
He carried a flag bearing the forbidden slogan: “Free Hong Kong, revolution of our time.”
Beijing imposed security law on the former British colony last year following anti-government protests that erupted in mid-2019.
The sentence was much longer than the three years required by the prosecution. Tong’s defense attorneys appealed for no more than 10. He faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Critics accuse Beijing of violating Western autonomy and civil liberties promised when Hong Kong returned to China in 1997, and of undermining its status as a commercial and financial center.
The ruling Communist Party rejects the criticism and claims that Beijing is restoring order and instituting security protections like those in other countries. More than 100 people have been arrested under the security law.
Defense lawyers said Tong’s sentence should be light because the three-judge panel did not find the attack was willful, no one was injured and the secession-related offense was classified as minor under the law.
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On Friday, Tong was dressed in a black shirt and tie with a blue blazer as he was throughout his trial.
The three-judge panel ruled Tuesday that Tong’s actions were an act of violence aimed at coercing the governments of Hong Kong and the mainland and intimidating the public. He said carrying the flag was an act of inciting secession, rejecting defense arguments that Tong could be proven to incite secession simply by using the slogan.
Tong’s trial proceeded without a jury under rules that allow an exception to Hong Kong’s British-style common law system if state secrets need to be protected or if foreign forces are involved. The judges were chosen by Hong Kong Managing Director Carrie Lam.
Hong Kong’s last pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, closed its doors last month after journalists and executives were arrested. Its owner, Jimmy Lai, is serving a 20-month prison sentence and faces new charges of colluding with foreigners to endanger national security.
Also last year, Hong Kong’s legislature was reorganized to reduce the role of the public in choosing lawmakers and guaranteeing a majority for prominent Beijing allies. The rules for elected officials have been tightened to force them to be considered patriots.