‘Liberate’ slogan cannot incite secession, court told

Lawyers for the defence in the case of national security suspect Tong Ying-kit on Tuesday sought to convince a three-judge panel that the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times” was incapable of inciting others to commit secession.

Tuesday was the 15th day of the trial – the city’s first under the national security law. The three judge panel of designated national security law judges will hand down its verdict in one week’s time.

Tong, 24, is the first person charged under the security law. He’s accused of inciting secession, terrorism, and an alternative charge of dangerous driving for allegedly driving his motorbike into police while flying a protest flag reading “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times” on July 1 last year.

During the last half hour of the trial, justice Anthea Pang asked defence lawyer Clive Grossman to clarify their position on the slogan, asking whether it was capable of inciting others to commit secession.

Grossman said the words of the slogan were so vague they would not be capable of doing so.

He said if there was any doubt as to the effects of the slogan, the court should rule in the defence’s favour.

In his closing speech, the senior counsel also told the court that their expert witnesses, Professors Francis Lee and Eliza Lee, had concluded that there could be multiple interpretations as to the meaning of the slogan.

He said the interpretation offered by the prosecution’s expert, historian Lau Chi-pang, that the slogan meant overthrowing the regime was just one of many interpretations.

Grossman said the prosecution had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that what his client had intended to convey was exactly what Lau suggested the slogan must mean.

He also said that instead of trying to drive his motorbike into police officers, his client had in fact avoided driving into them when he could have – suggesting Tong had applied the brakes before he collided with the three officers at a junction in Wan Chai.

Grossman said the fact that a police officer apparently threw a shield at Tong just before the crash might have distracted him, leading to what he called the accident.

The lawyer rejected the prosecution’s claim that Tong had committed terrorism by coercing the central or Hong Kong governments to pursue his political agenda, saying the accusations lacked evidence.

Contrary to what a terrorist would do, Tong brought a first-aid kit with him, hoping to help whoever got injured during the demonstrations that day, Grossman said.

Earlier, acting deputy director of prosecutions Anthony Chau said Tong had intended to incite others to commit secession by flying the protest slogan while driving from a cross harbour tunnel to Wan Chai, where he was cheered by some onlookers.

He said by driving his motorbike past four police check lines in Wan Chai despite repeated warnings – and officers firing pepper shots at him – Tong had committed terrorism and caused serious violence targeting police officers.

Chau also challenged the research methods used by the defence experts in their study of the meaning of the protest slogan. He said the research was biased, unreliable, and would not help the court to understand the meaning of the words.