Hong Kong sentenced the first resident under its new National Security Act, legislation imposed by China 13 months ago that suppressed freedoms in the former British colony and defied the West.
Former waiter Leon Tong Ying-kit, 24, faces life imprisonment for hitting a group of three police officers with a motorcycle during a protest on July 1, 2020 – a day before the news went into effect law.
Most importantly, Tong carried a black flag on his motorcycle with white words in Cantonese and English: Free Hong Kong, revolution in our times. The motto was one of the mantras of the gigantic protests that paralyzed the Chinese territory in 2019.
From that point on, Beijing’s repression became more evident. After more than six months of acts and under the impact of the pandemic, the protesters received a coup de grace with the enactment of the law, which ended the judicial autonomy which Hong Kong would have until 2047 according to the agreement with the United Kingdom for its return to China in 1997.
According to the text, anyone accused of secession, terrorism, subversion or collusion with foreigners for these purposes is subject to a special judicial procedure.
Also breaking the deal with London, Chinese forces set up a large repression unit in the city, supplanting local police in the task of tracking down dissidents.
The result was the virtual dissolution of the pro-democracy movement, a constant even in the elections of Honcongue, which in 2019 had its swan song. Opposition members of the Legislative Council, the local Chamber of Deputies, have resigned.
Due to pandemic risk allegations, the 2020 parliamentary elections have been called off and Beijing has passed new electoral rules that will only allow people politically aligned with the Communist dictatorship to run. The press is under siege and an opposition newspaper has closed after a police raid.
The crackdown has the backing of part of the local elite, concerned about the negative effects of continued protests on the business environment – more than 60% of foreign capital flows in and out of China pass through it, due to the part that was left untouched of the “two systems, one country” arrangement: unregulated capitalism.
The problem is that the new political order, which entered the center of the Cold War 2.0 led by the United States against China, ended up changing the economic profile of the country.
The region, which revolves around a main island, is more like other Chinese financial centers, with a strong presence of mainland companies.
Tong was sentenced by three Supreme Court justices chosen by the local executive. Minister Esther Toh Lye-ping pleaded guilty to secession, use of the flag and terrorism, for injuring officers.
“He wanted to communicate the secessionist meaning of the slogan and incite others by separating Hong Kong from China,” he said.
Tong’s defense said he unwittingly punched police officers, who jumped in front of him to prevent him from continuing on the trail in the Wan Chai area, Hong Kong Island’s commercial hub. The use of the flag, they said, was not “necessarily” politically intended – which, of course, is a weak argument.
The draconian nature of the new law will be put to the test. The decision on the sanction, which can be perpetual, should be taken at the end of a hearing Thursday (29), where the defense can present new arguments to mitigate it.
Tong’s attorney, Clive Grossman, said he had in his possession “several letters from the public” asking for his client’s release. However, he did not say whether he would attempt any recourse against the sentence itself, in particular because it has already been pronounced by the highest judicial body in the territory.
The conviction, at the end of a 15-day trial, comes the day after the meeting of the number 2 of American diplomacy, Wendy Sherman, with Chancellor Wang Yi in China. The meeting, like the one held between senior officials in Alaska last year, was marred by heated accusations.
Protests against the trial are also expected in the UK, which has vehemently protested what it sees as a violation of the 1984 treaty which agreed to return Hong Kong to the Chinese after more than a century and a half as as British colony.
A naval strike group led by the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is heading for the contested waters of the South China Sea to signal London’s crankiness and the UK’s alliance with the US.
For the Chinese, the security law is an obvious instrument for maintaining territorial integrity, and they accuse Western support for protesters of interfering in the country’s internal affairs.