HK jails activist for over three years in latest secession case

25-Nov-2021 Intellasia | Reuters-Kyodo | 7:19 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong sentenced a student activist to three years and seven months in prison after he pleaded guilty to secession, as authorities use a Beijing-drafted national security law to crack down on political dissent.

Tony Chung, 20, had faced as many as seven years behind bars after pleading guilty earlier this month to seeking to separate Hong Kong from mainland China between July and October 2020.



That guilty plea made Chung the third person to avoid fighting his case under the vaguely worded national security law. It was part of a deal struck with prosecutors that included submitting to money laundering charges relating to 133,000 Hong Kong dollars ($17,000).

The District Court on Tuesday sentenced him to three years and four months for the first charge of secession, with 18 months for money laundering, Hong Kong Free Press reported. Three of those months would be served non-concurrently, giving him a total sentence of 43 months.

“Even though the defendant did not have concrete plans to split the country, his goal was very much clear,” Judge Stanley Chan said, according to the local news outlet. “He actively organised, planned and implemented activities to separate the country.”

He added that the charge of secession “does not require actual plans.”

The court heard that Chung had published seditious messages on social media and held events with secessionist intent, according to local news outlet Radio Television Hong Kong.

The latest sentence will add to concerns that the security law imposed by Beijing in June 2020, in the wake of the previous year’s anti-government protests, is being used to crack down on political opposition. Hong Kong has sought to prosecute some 100 pro-democracy activists and former opposition lawmakers under the legislation, with about 85 percent of those cases involving speech-related crimes.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has credited the law for bringing stability to the Asian city but it has been criticised by Western governments for rolling back freedoms promised under the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

Chung, the youngest person to be convicted under the security law, received the lightest sentence of the three handed down so far. Tong Ying-kit and Ma Chun-man both pled not guilty and received nine years, and five years and nine months, respectively.

Chung was detained in October 2020 at a coffee shop opposite the US consulate, where he had been planning to seek asylum. Days later, he was charged under the security law on suspicion of secession.

Chung is a former convener of Studentlocalism. Like other anti-government organisations, Studentlocalism disbanded before Beijing imposed the security law in June 2020, to punish anything it deems as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.

The vast majority of Hong Kong people do not support independence, but any mention of the idea is anathema to Beijing.

Since the enactment of the security law, Hong Kong has taken a swift authoritarian turn, with most democratic politicians now in jail or in self-exile. Dozens of civil society organisations have folded, and some international rights groups have left the city.

Chinese and Hong Kong authorities deny the security law tramples individual rights and say the legislation was necessary to restore stability after mass street protests in 2019.

The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of a high degree of autonomy. Democracy activists and some Western governments say China broke that promise an allegation that Beijing vehemently denies.



Category: Hong Kong

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