A Hong Kong court convicted a protester of terrorism under the territory’s new national-security law for the first time on Tuesday.
Tong Ying-kit was arrested on July 1, 2020, after driving his motorcycle while flying a protest flag with an anti-government slogan. Tong then crashed into riot police attempting to stop him, injuring three.
The national-security law criminalizes behavior viewed as damaging to China, and was applied to Hong Kong just hours before Tong was arrested. China imposed the law after almost a year of protests against what many Hong Kong residents saw as encroachments upon the territory’s autonomy.
Tong was denied bail and a trial by jury, and was convicted by a three-judge panel chosen by Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam.
“This verdict violates the spirit of the rule of law,” Nathan Law, a pro-democracy activist currently living in the U.K., said in a statement. “The judicial system in Hong Kong is weaponized to suppress. Our right to free expression is severely curtailed.”
The slogan on Tong’s flag read “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times,” which the court said constituted an illegal call to secede from China. The court also concluded that Tong deliberately crashed into Hong Kong police officers.
“A person who sets out to commit the act of terrorism by driving into people does not put his foot on the brake,” Tong’s attorney, Clive Grossman, countered during the trial.
Tong could face up to life in prison.
In May 2020, then-U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo informed Congress that the State Department could no longer consider Hong Kong an autonomous territory.
“No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China. . . . It is now clear that China is modeling Hong Kong after itself,” Pompeo said at the time.