A Hong Kong man who was the first person charged under China's new "National Security Law" has been sentenced to 9 years in prison.
24-year-old Tong Ying-kit was found guilty earlier this week of inciting secession and terrorism. He was charged under the controversial newafter he ran into police on a motorbike while carrying a flag with a protest slogan during pro-democracy demonstrations.
His case could set a precedent for similar verdicts to be issued for more than 60 other pro-democracy activists who have been arrested since the law took effect, including former politicians, lawyers, health workers, union leaders and a journalist, who have been critical of Hong Kong's government and, by extension, China's leaders.
Attempt to "discredit the democratic movement"
Tong was sentenced on Friday to 8 years for terrorist activities and 6and-a-half years for inciting secession. Two-and-a-half years of those sentences will run consecutively, meaning his total sentence amounts to 9 years.
"We consider that this overall term should sufficiently reflect the defendant's culpability in the two offences and the abhorrence of society, at the same time, achieving the deterrent effect required," the judges said after Tong's sentencing on Friday, according to the Reuters news agency.
"Tong is not a terrorist, Hong Kong protesters are not terrorists," former pro-democracy politician and activist Nathan Law, who currently lives in exile in the United Kingdom, told CBS News, calling the 9 year sentence "outrageous."
"The Hong Kong government uses this stigmatization to discredit the democratic movement and justify their suppression. The Hong Kong and Chinese governments should be the ones held accountable for all the attacks to people and our values," Law said.
"A tool to instill terror"
Hong Kong used to be a British colony, but was handed back to China under the condition that it would be semi-autonomous and that certain rights and freedoms would be maintained.
In June last year, China passed the "National Security Law," which critics say was tailor-made to bring Hong Kong's massive pro-democracy movement to heel. They say it is beingand muzzle freedom of speech — institutions that were protected or allowed in Hong Kong for decades, unlike in mainland China.
"The sentencing of Tong Ying-kit to nine years 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 after Friday's ruling.
"Weaponized to suppress"
Police arrested Tong on July 1, 2020, just hours after China's national security law came into effect. He was riding a motorcycle through the streets of the city, displaying a black flag that fluttered in the wind with the slogan, "Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times." He then crashed into a group of policemen. Tong claims he tried to avoid hitting them.
The ultimate focus of Tong's trial was the protest slogan, "Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times."
The day after Tong's arrest last year, the government banned the phrase.
"We are … sure that the defendant fully understood the slogan to bear the meaning of Hong Kong independence and by displaying, in the manner he did, the flag bearing the slogan, the defendant intended to convey the secessionist meaning of the slogan as understood by him to others and he intended to incite others to commit acts separating the HKSAR (Hong Kong) from the PRC (People's Republic of China)," the three judges said in their ruling on Tuesday.
"The sentencing of Tong shows that the NSL court is a weaponized legal tool to persecute dissidents," Law, the exiled Hong Kong politician, told CBS News on Friday. "It consolidates the concept of speech crime and severely curtails Hong Kong people's freedom of speech."
Ramy Inocencio contributed to this report.