Hong Kong (AFP) – A young democracy activist in Hong Kong was sentenced to three and a half years behind bars on Tuesday after pleading guilty to secession under the city’s sweeping national security law.
Tony Chung, 20, is the youngest person to be convicted under the new law that has crushed dissent in Hong Kong and transformed the once outspoken international business hub.
Earlier this month he pleaded guilty to one count of secession and one count of money laundering, but defiantly said he had “nothing to be ashamed of”.
Chung was previously the organizer of Student Localism, a small group he started five years ago as a high school student to advocate for Hong Kong independence from China.
Separation from China was then a fringe minority view in Hong Kong, although calls for autonomy became more vocal during huge and often violent democracy protests two years ago.
Beijing imposed the security law in Hong Kong in response to these protests and student localism dissolved hours before it took effect.
Authorities accused Chung of continuing to operate the group with the help of foreign activists and of soliciting donations through PayPal – the basis of the money laundering charge.
Prosecutors said Chung’s group posted more than 1,000 social media posts that included calls to “get rid of Chinese communist colonial rule” and “build a Hong Kong republic.”
Some of the posts cited by prosecutors dated back to before the security law was enacted, although Hong Kong officials promised the law would not be retroactive.
On Tuesday, Stanley Chan, a member of a panel of government-selected judges to try national security cases, said Chung’s criminal intent was “clear to all” on social media, in interviews, in street kiosks and in schools.
Chung has already spent more than a year in detention after his arrest in October 2020.
He was arrested by plainclothes police at a cafe opposite the US consulate, where he reportedly intends to seek asylum.
The security law targets anything authorities deem subversive, terrorist or colluding with foreign forces.
Chung initially faced an additional charge of sedition and another count of money laundering, but they were shelved following a plea bargain.
In a separate case last December, Chung was jailed for four months for unlawful assembly and insulting the Chinese national flag.
Four other men have so far been convicted in separate cases under the Security Act, mainly for their political views.
More than 150 people have been arrested under the legislation, about half of whom have been charged.
Bail is often denied and guilty pleas are a way to reduce both the final sentence and the court costs of a lengthy court battle.
© 2021 AFP