First security law trial ends with guilty verdict

Former restaurant worker Tong Ying-kit on Tuesday became the first person to be found guilty of offences under Hong Kong’s national security law, as the High Court convicted him of terrorism and inciting secession.

Tong, 24, was arrested on July 1 last year – just hours after the legislation came into effect – for driving a motorbike into a group of police officers in Wan Chai while flying a black and white protest flag that read “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times”.

Following a 15-day trial, handpicked national security judges Esther Toh, Anthea Pang and Wilson Chan ruled that Tong’s acts were aimed at “intimidating the public in order to pursue a political agenda”.

Much of the trial focused on the meaning of the Liberate slogan, and defence experts argued it could mean different things to different people.

But the judges noted that the offences occurred on the anniversary of the handover, and just a day after the introduction of legislation that “deals with matters of national security including, in particular, secession”.

“We have no difficulty in coming to the sure conclusion that the slogan as at 1 July 2020 was capable of carrying the meaning of separating the HKSAR from the PRC and was capable of inciting others to commit secession,” the judges said in their ruling.

“We are also 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 from the PRC.”

The terrorism charge Tong was convicted of relates to him crashing his motorbike into the police.

“In our view, a blatant and serious challenge mounted against the police force which is charged with the responsibility of maintaining public safety and security, and thus a symbol of law and order, will certainly instil a sense of fear amongst the law-abiding members of the public, in particular, apprehension of a breakdown of a safe and peaceful society into a lawless one. In that event, grave harm would certainly be caused to the society,” the judges said.

Tong, who denied the charges, has been held in custody since his arrest. His bail applications were repeatedly rejected by the courts.

In an unusual move, the Department of Justice denied Tong a trial by jury, citing concerns over the personal safety of the jurors and their families.

Tong has not yet been sentenced and his mitigation plea will be heard on Thursday.

He appeared calm on hearing the verdict. The maximum punishment he faces is life in prison.