First person to stand trial under Hong Kong’s security law pleads not guilty

First person to stand trial under Hong Kong’s security law pleads not guilty
In this July 6, 2020, file photo, Tong Ying-kit arrives at a court in a police van in Hong Kong. (Vincent Yu/AP, File)

The first person to stand trial under Hong Kong’s national security law has pleaded not guilty to charges of terrorism and inciting secession by driving a motorcycle into police officers while carrying a protest flag.

Tong Ying-kit was arrested on July 1, 2020, a day after the sweeping national security law took effect in response to massive pro-democracy protests that challenged Beijing’s rule.

He was accused of driving into the crowd of officers during a 2019 rally while bearing a flag with the slogan: “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times.”

Several officers were knocked over and three sustained injuries.

Police officers stand guard as Tong Ying-kit arrives at court in Hong Kong (Vincent Yu/AP)

His trial will set the tone for how Hong Kong handles national security offences.

So far, more than 100 people have been arrested under the security law, including prominent pro-democracy activists such as media tycoon Jimmy Lai, the publisher of Apple Daily.

Police on Wednesday arrested a 55-year-old man on suspicion of foreign collusion to endanger national security.

According to Apple Daily, which cited unnamed sources, the man writes editorials for the paper under the pseudonym Li Ping.

The embattled pro-democracy paper last week saw five of its top editors and executives arrested on the same charge of foreign collusion.

Authorities also searched the newspaper’s offices and froze 2.3 million dollars (£1.66 million) worth of assets from three companies linked to Apple Daily.

The daily has said that it could cease operations by this weekend if authorities do not release some of its assets to allow the company to pay wages.

The slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times” was often chanted during anti-government demonstrations demanding broader democratic freedoms, including universal suffrage.

He is the first person to stand trial under the national security law in Hong Kong (Vincent Yu/AP)

Protests accuse Beijing of walking back on its promise at the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from Britain that the city could retain its freedoms not seen elsewhere in China for 50 years.

China responded with tough measures silencing opposition voices, including the national security law, which criminalises subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion.

The legislation makes calls for Hong Kong independence illegal, and a government notice last July said the protest slogan connotes a call for independence and subversion of state power.

A court ruled last month that Mr Tong will stand trial without a jury, a diversion from Hong Kong’s common law traditions.

Under the national security law, a panel of three judges can replace jurors, and the city’s leader has the power to designate judges to hear such cases.

The law carries a maximum penalty of life in prison for serious offenders. Mr Tong is standing trial at the High Court, where sentences are not capped.

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