The first national security trial in Hong Kong will be decided by a Hong Kong court.
When a Hong Kong court issues its judgement in the first trial using a national security statute imposed by China to suppress dissent, it will leave an imprint on the city’s future legal environment.
One of the most important aspects of the decision will be whether flying a popular protest banner may be considered an act of secession, one of the new national security offenses punishable by life in prison.
Tong Ying-kit, 24, is accused of inciting secession and terrorism after crashing his motorcycle into police officers while waving a protest banner during a rally on July 1, 2017, the day after the national security law was passed.
“Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” read the flag, which was a common chant during the city’s massive and frequently violent pro-democracy protests two years ago.
The 15-day trial will be determined by three judges appointed by the city’s leader to try national security offences, in a striking break from the financial hub’s common law history.
The decision will reveal how Hong Kong’s judges would interpret Beijing’s broadly worded security statute, as well as whether the semi-autonomous city’s courts will become more authoritarian mainland Chinese courts.
More than 60 people have been charged as a result of the law, including some of the city’s most well-known democracy activists, including Jimmy Lai, the owner of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper.
The majority of those accused are currently incarcerated awaiting trial.
Tong, a former waiter, was accused of following a “political objective” that caused “severe harm to society” and thus matched the criteria for terrorism, according to the prosecution.
Prosecutors claimed the flag he flew was separatist because it encouraged Hong Kong’s independence.
In addition, he faces a charge of reckless driving.
Days of testimony were spent on the flag, with both sides calling university academics to explain the significance of the slogan.
The slogan meant different things to different individuals in what was a leaderless protest movement that featured a wide range of political ideas, from those desiring true independence from China to others seeking improved democracy and police accountability, according to defense specialists.
“It is actually pretty difficult, quite painful, or even misleading to imagine that one thought just implies one thing in my mind in all circumstances,” Francis Lee, the head of the journalism school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, testified as a defense witness.
The great majority of people who were arrested under the security statute were charged with. Brief News from Washington Newsday.