Tony Chung, 20, is the youngest person to be convicted under the new law which 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 sentencing, Tony Chung, 20, is now the youngest person to be convicted under the new law which 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 declared he had “nothing to be ashamed of”.
Chung was previously the convener of Student Localism, a small group he set up five years ago as a secondary school student to advocate Hong Kong’s independence from China.
Separation from China was then a fringe minority view in Hong Kong although calls for self-rule became more vocal during huge and often violent democracy protests two years ago.
Beijing imposed the security law on Hong Kong in response to those protests and Student Localism disbanded hours before it came into effect.
Authorities accused Chung of continuing to operate the group with the help of overseas activists and soliciting donations via PayPal. He faces money laundering charge.
Prosecutors said Chung’s group published more than 1,000 social media posts that included calls to “get rid of Chinese Communist colonial rule” and “build a Hong Kong republic”.
More than 150 arrested
Some of the posts prosecutors cited dated back to before the security law’s enactment, despite Hong Kong authorities promising that the law would not be retroactive.
On Tuesday, Stanley Chan, one of a group of select judges picked by the government to try national security cases, said Chung’s criminal intent was “clear for all to see” on social media, in interviews, at street booths and in schools.
“He actively organised, planned and implemented activities to separate the country,” District Court Judge Stanley Chan said.
Chung has already spent more than a year in custody after he was arrested in October 2020.
He was nabbed by plainclothes police from a coffee shop opposite the US consulate, where he was allegedly planning to seek asylum.
The security law targets anything authorities deem subversion, “terrorism” or collusion 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 China’s national flag.
Four other men have so far been convicted in separate cases under the security law – mostly for their political views.
More than 150 people have been arrested under the legislation, with almost half of them charged.
Bail is often denied and guilty pleas are a way to reduce both the end sentence and the legal costs of a long court battle.
Most democratic politicians are 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.