Leon Tong Ying-Kit became the first person to be sentenced under Hong Kong’s National Security Law, or NSL, on July 30, when a Hong Kong court sentenced the protester to nine years in prison under charges of inciting secession and terrorism.
His sentence is portioned out between six-and-a-half years for inciting secession and eight years for terrorism. Two-and-a-half years will run consecutively, resulting in a total nine year sentence.
Tong was arrested on July 1 after crashing his motorcycle into a group of Hong Kong police officers while flying a flag reading “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times.” He was the first to be charged under the NSL in Hong Kong on July 27.
Regarding the charge of terrorism, Tong’s defense lawyers acknowledged his recklessness in crashing into Hong Kong authorities, but they stressed that Tong had tried avoiding the group of police officers and that his actions did not constitute terrorism.
The charge of secession was the primary focus by most everyone involved in the trial. A key aspect was the slogan on the flag itself. Judges, prosecutors, and Tong’s lawyers spent most of their time determining the interpretation of the slogan, and if it suggested the promotion of Hong Kong’s secession from China, deemed illegal under the NSL.
However, the slogan was ubiquitous back in Hong Kong’s 2019 protests.
Tong was not allowed a fair trial by jury and the judges of his case – who were handpicked by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam – were Esther Toh, Anthea Pang, and Wilson Chan. The judges ruled that they were sure that the defendant “fully understood the slogan to bear the meaning of Hong Kong independence” which were the grounds of Tong’s sentencing.
Tong did not testify during the trial and plead not guilty to both convictions.
Leon Tong Ying-Kit, 24, was an advocate for freedom in Hong Kong and provided first aid to protesters involved in the pro-democracy marches in 2019. He was his family’s breadwinner, working as a cook in a Japanese restaurant to help provide financial assistance for his younger sister’s education.
NSL has changed Hong Kong’s judicial landscape. Experts say the new legislation, passed in June 2020, gives more room to courts to interpret any civilian’s action and apply any piece of the National Security legislation they deem fit.
Recently, the U.S. government has even warned businesses operating in Hong Kong that they too are at risk from the NSLs.
Since the NSL has been enacted, more than 60 pro-democracy advocates have been arrested. Among them is longtime Acton friend, Jimmy Lai.
“The objective of NSL is not merely to punish but to deter others” Surya Deva, an associate professor of law at City University of Hong Kong said. “Swift and serious penalties should be expected.”
The Chinese Communist Party, or CCP, will not and cannot tolerate any opposition, verbal or otherwise, in order to maintain control of their citizens. Especially in Tong’s case, his trial opens the door to a more broad application of NSL on any phrase or word that poses a threat to the CCP’s absolute control of China.