Hong Kong activist sentenced to 43 months under national security law

Hong Kong student activist Tony Chung was sentenced to three years and seven months in prison on Tuesday after pleading guilty to secession and money laundering charges under the city’s national security law.

Chung, 20, is the youngest person sentenced under Hong Kong’s national security law since China’s imposition of the measure last year.

He pleaded guilty to one count of secession and one count of money laundering in plea bargaining. Under these conditions, the authorities dropped a second count of money laundering as well as a count of sedition.

After pleading guilty on November 3, Chung said, “I have no shame in my heart,” local media reported.

His plea deal on Tuesday earned him a 25% reduction in his sentence, meaning Chung will serve 40 months simultaneously for secession and 18 months for money laundering, with just three months of the latter sentence being served separately.

Political scientist Joseph Cheng, formerly from Hong Kong but now living in New Zealand, believes the 43-month sentence is too harsh.

“I certainly think the sentence is too severe. There appears to be an intention to create a deterrent effect. Advocating for independence, even in the absence of concrete action, will result in severe penalties, ”Cheng told VOA by email.

FILE: In this January 1, 2019 photo, pro-independence protester Tony Chung, right, marches at an annual New Years protest in Hong Kong.

The activist Chung is the former chairman of the youth activist group Studentlocalism, a pro-independence student organization founded in 2016. During his national security trial, prosecutors said Chung posted social media messages calling people to join the protests and get rid of Chinese colonization. to reign.

Authorities arrested the activist in October 2020 outside the US Embassy in Hong Kong. He was the first politician to face charges under the Security Act.

Weeks before his arrest, the then 19-year-old Chung spoke to VOA, describing his fears that Hong Kong authorities would arrest him soon. Last December, the young activist was sentenced to four months in prison after being sentenced under Hong Kong’s basic law for insulting the Chinese national flag during anti-government protests in 2019. The basic law is the legal system city ​​default.

FILE: Young supporters of former Studentlocalism leader Tony Chung wait in court in Hong Kong on October 29, 2020.

FILE: Young supporters of former Studentlocalism leader Tony Chung wait in court in Hong Kong on October 29, 2020.

Joseph Cheng said speaking in Hong Kong has become too dangerous.

“Already, people do not want to express themselves. Journalists struggle to find people to comment on sensitive topics; however, there are many activists in exile, and they will continue to express their views. In Hong Kong, people remain silent but the anger is there, ”he added.

Finn Lau, a Hong Kong activist in exile in Britain, told VOA that the conviction of Tony Chung would only encourage activists in Hong Kong.

“His conviction would push exiled Hong Kong activists, especially myself, to go the extra mile to counter the influence of the Chinese Communist Party in the world. It would not deter Hong Kong people.

“Since pro-democracy voices in Hong Kong, including newspapers, have been stifled, it is inevitable that genuine opinion of Hong Kong people will pass through Hong Kong people overseas,” he said.

Britain returned control of Hong Kong to China in 1997 under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, under which the city would enjoy a “high degree of autonomy” for 50 years. But activists in the city have complained that China has long encroached on those freedoms. China maintains that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of the country and that calls for independence have no legal basis.

After the 2019 anti-government protests, Beijing implemented the Hong Kong National Security Law, prohibiting secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces, and its details can be widely interpreted.

Since then, dozens of opposition activists and lawmakers have been arrested and await trial, while others have fled abroad. Slogans were banned, while pro-democracy books were taken from libraries and schools. In June, the pro-democracy Apple Daily closed its doors after 26 years of journalism with its founder Jimmy Lai in prison. At least 50 civil society groups have also disbanded since the security law came into force.

Chung is the third person to be sentenced under the Security Law for secession.

Activist Leon Tong Ying-Kit, 24, was the first person convicted under the law. In July, he was sentenced to nine years in prison following his conviction for terrorism and secession.

Activist Ma Chun-man, nicknamed “Captain America 2.0,” was sentenced to nearly six years in prison for inciting secession.

Both defendants had pleaded not guilty.

Eric Yan-ho Lai, legal and policy analyst and fellow at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, said Chung’s sentence was significantly lower after a guilty plea and could influence the pleas of future defendants to be tried under the guilty plea. security measure.

“The sentence imposed on Tony Chung would set an example for the following defendants under the National Security Act to consider whether or not they should plead guilty or not, as the sentence length is lighter than that of Ma and Tong who did not plead guilty. “

Lai added that the defendants are already feeling the pressure to plead guilty due to the costs of legal representation.

“The change in the surrounding environment, including the new legal aid system whereby defendants can no longer choose their own legal representation if they apply legal aid, therefore also create a combined effect of pressure on defendants. for them to consider pleading guilty or defending their words and deeds. in the courtroom.

The legal analyst questioned whether the crackdown on young opposition voices benefits Hong Kong in the long run.

“Governments will wonder if criminalizing young people with draconian laws can really regain public trust in justice or in governments,” he added.

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