Tony Chung, 20, is the youngest person sentenced under the new law that has crushed dissent in Hong Kong.
A young Hong Kong democracy activist has been sentenced to three and a half years behind bars after pleading guilty to secession under the city’s sweeping national security law.
With Tuesday’s conviction, Tony Chung, 20, is now the youngest person convicted under the law, which has crushed dissent in Hong Kong and transformed the territory.
Earlier this month he pleaded guilty to one count of secession and one count of money laundering, but said he had “nothing to be ashamed of”.
Chung was previously the organizer of Studentlocalism, a small group he started five years ago as a high school student to advocate for Hong Kong’s independence from China.
Separation from China was a minority view in Hong Kong at the time, although calls for autonomy were more vocal in the massive pro-democracy protests two years ago.
Beijing imposed security law on Hong Kong in response to protests, which at times turned violent, and Studentlocalism was dissolved hours before the legislation took effect.
Authorities accused Chung of continuing to operate the group with the help of foreign activists and of soliciting donations through PayPal.
Prosecutors said Chung’s group posted more than 1,000 social media posts that included calls to “get rid of the Chinese Communist colonial rule” and “build a republic of Hong Kong.”
More than 150 orders
Some of the posts cited by prosecutors predated the imposition of the security law, although authorities had said the law would not be retroactive.
On Tuesday, Stanley Chan, one of a panel of judges selected by the government to try national security cases, said Chung’s criminal intent was “clear for all to see” on social media. , during interviews, in street kiosks and in schools.
“He actively organized, planned and implemented activities to separate the country,” the judge said.
Chung has already spent more than a year in detention after his arrest in October 2020.
He was arrested by plainclothes police in a cafe across from the US consulate, where he is said to have planned to seek asylum.
The security law covers anything the authorities deem to be subversion, “terrorism” or collusion with foreign forces.
Chung initially faced an additional charge of sedition and another count of money laundering, but they were suspended following a plea bargain.
In another case last December, Chung was jailed for four months for illegal assembly and insulting the Chinese national flag.
Four other men have so far been convicted in separate cases under the security law – mainly for their political views.
More than 150 people have been arrested under the law, and nearly half of them have been charged.
Bail is often denied, and guilty pleas are a way to reduce both the final sentence and the legal costs of a lengthy court battle.
Most Democratic politicians are now in prison or in self-exile. Dozens of civil society organizations have withdrawn and some international rights groups have left the city.
Chinese and Hong Kong authorities deny that the security law violates individual rights and say the legislation was needed to restore stability after the protests.
The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997, with Beijing promising a high degree of autonomy for at least 50 years.