Hong Kong’s first trial under new national security law begins without a jury

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Tong Ying-kit, 24, pleaded not responsible to 2 expenses of inciting secession and terrorism actions after allegedly driving his bike into a bunch of cops and injuring three at a pro-democracy protest final July.

He was allegedly carrying a banner that learn “Liberate Hong Kong” on the time — grounds for inciting secession below the brand new legislation, prosecutors stated.

Tong additionally faces another cost to the terrorism rely of harmful driving inflicting grievous bodily hurt, to which he additionally pleaded not responsible.

The wide-ranging safety laws, which criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorist actions, and collusion with international forces, was launched on June 30, 2020, and carries with it a most sentence of life imprisonment.
Police officers stand guard as Tong Ying-kit arrives at a court in Hong Kong on June 23.
The seemingly obscure parameters of the legislation have offered authorities with sweeping powers to crack down closely on authorities opponents. Protesters and opposition leaders have been arrested below the legislation, whereas others have fled overseas in a slow exodus. The town’s extremely widespread anti-Beijing tabloid, Apple Daily, announced its closure Wednesday, after the paper’s property had been frozen below the nationwide safety legislation and several other of its senior editors arrested.

Below the provisions of the legislation, Tong’s 15-day trial is being held and not using a jury, marking a big departure from Hong Kong’s earlier authorized system.

This is what you must know concerning the legislation — and the way we acquired right here.

What’s the nationwide safety legislation?

The legislation criminalizes political dissent and offenses that problem Beijing’s rule over semi-autonomous Hong Kong.

However the offenses are vaguely outlined and wide-ranging; as an example, vandalizing public property or authorities premises — like protesters did in 2019 throughout large demonstrations — are actually thought of terrorist actions.

Calling for Hong Kong independence now counts as a criminal offense below “secession,” which is what Tong is charged with.

At court docket final July, Tong’s lawyer argued the interpretation and which means of his “Liberate Hong Kong” banner is subjective, and it doesn’t essentially imply inciting secession or wishing to vary the authorized standing of Hong Kong.

As the primary trial below the safety legislation, Tong’s case might be key in figuring out whether or not sure pro-democracy slogans might be deemed unlawful — and can set a benchmark for a way Hong Kong courts interpret the legislation and its provisions going ahead.

First person charged under Hong Kong's national security law appears in court

The Hong Kong authorized system, closely influenced by British widespread legislation, has relied on trial by jury all through its historical past. A 2003 authorities report famous that trial by jury was one of many “key options of the Hong Kong authorized system.” However below the nationwide safety legislation, Beijing can take over nationwide safety instances in particular circumstances — and if it includes “state secrets and techniques or public order,” it could mandate a closed-door trial with no jury.

The legislation additionally dramatically broadens the powers of native and mainland Chinese language authorities to analyze, prosecute and punish dissenters, whereas granting mainland safety brokers the facility to function overtly in Hong Kong for the primary time.

Different provisions embody the introduction of “nationwide safety training” in colleges, stronger authorities “administration” of international information media and NGOs, higher wiretapping talents for police, and extra.

Why is it taking place now?

The nationwide safety legislation will not be a brand new idea — however it was handed below distinctive circumstances that marked a turning level for the town.

Beijing had been asking Hong Kong to cross a nationwide safety legislation because the former British colony was handed again to China in 1997. However the native authorities backed down from its earlier legislative makes an attempt after dealing with fierce public opposition and protests, a lot to China’s frustration.

This modified in 2019. Protests over a separate invoice, which might have allowed suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China, advanced right into a mass pro-democracy, anti-government movement that lasted greater than six months. Demonstrations usually grew violent, with near-weekly clashes between protesters and police, who deployed tear gasoline and water cannons.
Beijing condemned the protests from afar, however largely left it to native authorities to deal with — till their endurance ran out. The coronavirus pandemic put a pause on the protest motion, offering Beijing the chance to behave swiftly whereas individuals stayed residence.

The invoice was first proposed on Could 22 on the Nationwide Folks’s Congress (NPC) and promulgated simply weeks later, bypassing the native legislature.

Whereas Hong Kong has an unbiased authorized system, a again door in its mini-constitution permits Beijing to make legal guidelines within the metropolis — which means there wasn’t a lot the Hong Kong public or management might do about it.

Following its introduction, Hong Kong chief Carrie Lam has repeatedly and strenuously defended the laws, arguing it is foremost goal is to “keep long-term stability and prosperity in Hong Kong,” and that it’ll goal solely a minority of people.

How has the legislation been used?

Police made their first arrest below the nationwide safety legislation the day after it was handed, and have not stopped since.

Final July, a dozen pro-democracy candidates had been barred from standing in legislative elections on nationwide safety grounds. The next month, greater than 200 cops raided Apple Daily’s headquarters, arresting various prime executives, together with the paper’s proprietor, media tycoon Jimmy Lai. That very same day, police arrested a outstanding 23-year-old pro-democracy politician below the safety legislation, the primary of many to return.
In August, 12 Hong Kong residents — together with a 16-year-old — had been arrested for trying to flee to Taiwan by boat, and detained within the mainland for months with out entry to legal professionals. A number of have since been launched again to Hong Kong, the place at the least one was charged below the safety legislation.
New arrests, guidelines and crackdown measures that might have been beforehand unthinkable got here at a dizzying velocity. Dozens of former lawmakers and opposition activists had been arrested in January below the safety legislation, and charged a month later.

Web sites have since been blocked, and flicks positioned below revised authorities tips to abide by the legislation, signaling the beginning of a extra widespread cultural censorship.

Final Thursday, 500 cops raided Apple Every day for a second time, seizing journalists’ supplies and arresting the paper’s administrators. Nationwide safety police then froze the corporate’s property.

On Wednesday, as Tong stood trial within the metropolis’s Excessive Courtroom, information broke of yet one more arrest — an Apple Every day worker, adopted hours later by affirmation the outlet would stop operations after June 26.

An unsure future

The crackdown has had a chilling impact in Hong Kong, with pro-democracy figures now not in a position to set up opposition, journalists dealing with arrest for his or her work, and residents scared of what this implies for the town’s future.

The mass demonstrations that characterised 2019, typically stretching into a whole bunch of 1000’s of contributors, are nowhere to be seen. There are often small flash protests, however these are rapidly shut down and the organizers punished.

Hong Kong is wanting more and more like different Chinese language cities, topic to Chinese language legal guidelines and censorship — which throws into query its viability as a base for worldwide companies. Residents, too, want to depart — a whole bunch of 1000’s are anticipated to relocate to the UK, below a brand new scheme carried out by the UK authorities for holders of British Nationwide (Abroad) passports.

“I’ve by no means been so unsure concerning the future in my entire life,” stated Hong Kong political commentator Kim-Wah Chung in late Could. He plans to remain within the metropolis — however has been urged by family and friends to depart.

“Due to the quickly deteriorating political state of affairs, and a few form of uncertainty and threats, I’ve been warned by many individuals — you need to think about this,” he stated.

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