A Hong Kong man has been sentenced to nine years in prison after he rode a motorbike into police officers while flying a flag with a protest slogan.
Tong Ying-kit, whose flag bore the phrase “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times”, was earlier found guilty of inciting secession and terrorism.
He was the first person to be charged under Hong Kong’s controversial national security law.
Friday’s verdict has set the tone for how future cases might be interpreted.
More than 100 people have been arrested since the law came into force in 2020.
Critics say it reduces Hong Kong’s autonomy and makes it easier to punish activists.
“The sentencing of Tong Ying-kit to nine years confirms fears that the national security law is not merely a tool to instil terror into government critics in Hong Kong; it is a weapon that will be used to incarcerate them.” said Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra.
Tong’s conviction for secession was because of the slogan on his flag.
Why is the protest slogan so sensitive?
Part of Tong’s 15-day trial focused on the meaning of the “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” slogan, which was popular during pro-democracy protests in the city.
The prosecution argued that the phrase literally called for Hong Kong’s independence from the mainland, while the defence said its meaning was more ambiguous.
In the end the judge ruled that the phrase was capable of inciting others to commit “secession” and found Tong guilty.
The defence team had argued for a jury but Hong Kong’s justice secretary argued that the jurors’ safety would be put at risk given the city’s sensitive political climate.
Why is the national security law controversial?
A former British colony, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 but under the “one country, two systems” principle.
This was supposed to guarantee certain freedoms for the territory – including freedom of assembly and speech, an independent judiciary and some democratic rights – which mainland China does not have.
These freedoms are enshrined in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which was meant to last until 2047.
But in June last year, Beijing passed the national security law – which lawyers and legal experts said would fundamentally change the territory’s legal system.