Tony Chung, 20, is the youngest person to be convicted under the new law that has shattered discord 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 comprehensive national security law.
With Tuesday’s sentencing, Tony Chung, 20, is now the youngest person convicted under the new law that has shattered discord in Hong Kong and transformed the once-pronounced international business core.
He pleaded guilty earlier this month to one count of layoffs and one count of money laundering, but defiantly stated that he “has nothing to be ashamed of”.
Chung was previously the convener of Student Localism, a small group he founded five years ago as a high school student to advocate Hong Kong’s independence from China.
Separation from China was a minority view in Hong Kong at the time, although calls for self-government became louder during large and often violent democracy demonstrations two years ago.
Beijing enforced Hong Kong security law in response to the protests and Student Localism disbanded hours before it took effect.
Authorities have accused Chung of continuing to operate the group with the help of overseas activists and of soliciting donations via PayPal. He is facing charges of money laundering.
Prosecutors said Chung’s group had published more than 1,000 social media posts including calls for “getting rid of Chinese Communist colonial rule” and “building a Hong Kong republic”.
More than 150 arrested
Some of the posts cited by prosecutors date back to before the entry into force of the security law, despite Hong Kong authorities promising the law would not be retroactive.
Stanley Chan, one of a select group of judges chosen by the government to try national security cases, said on Tuesday that Chung’s criminal intent was “clear for all to see” on social media, in interviews, at street hockey and a school.
“He actively organized, planned and implemented activities to separate the country,” said District Court Judge Stanley Chan.
Chung has already spent more than a year in custody after being arrested in October 2020.
He was caught by civilian police from a coffee shop across from the US Consulate, where he allegedly planned to seek asylum.
The security law targets anything that authorities consider to be undermining, “terrorism” or collusion with foreign forces.
Chung initially faced an additional charge of rioting and another charge of money laundering, but they were turned down after a plea deal.
In a separate case last December, Chung was jailed for four months for illegal assembly and insulting China’s national flag.
Four other men have so far been convicted in separate cases under the Security Act – 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 pleading guilty is a way to reduce both the final sentence and the legal costs of a long court battle.
Most democratic politicians are now in jail or in self-exile. Dozens of civic organizations folded, and some international legal groups left the city.
Chinese and Hong Kong authorities deny that the security law tramples on individual rights and say the legislation was needed 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 has broken that promise – a claim that Beijing vehemently denies.