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Hong Kong’s First National Security Law Trial Begins Without Jury

Tong Ying-kit faces life imprisonment

Hong Kong’s first trial under its harsh national security law began on Wednesday in a controversial trial without a jury.

Tong Ying-kit pleaded not guilty to inciting secession, terrorism and dangerous driving.

The 24-year-old held up a banner calling for the “liberation” of Hong Kong. He faces life imprisonment.

Beijing says the National Security Law criminalizes “subversive” acts, but critics say it silences dissent.

The law came into effect after a series of mass pro-democracy protests in 2019, some of which turned violent.

Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong say the law – widely criticized internationally – was necessary to bring stability.

What are the details of the case?

Mr. Tong was arrested on July 1, 2020, charged with riding his motorcycle among a group of police officers and injuring some.

He would also have carried a flag on which was written “Free Hong Kong, revolution of our time”.

A popular slogan among protesters at the time, it became illegal under the National Security Act which criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces.

Violations of the law carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Mr. Tong also faces separate reckless driving charges.

Hong Kong’s First National Security Law Trial Begins Without Jury

Banners like this are now illegal in Hong Kong

Why is there no jury?

The accused’s legal team lobbied for the case to be heard by a jury, arguing that it was Mr. Tong’s right given that he faces a life sentence if he is found guilty.

But the Hong Kong justice secretary argued that a jury trial in the case would endanger the safety of jurors given the city’s tense political situation.

The trial without a jury is seen as a defining moment in Hong Kong’s rapidly evolving legal traditions.

It is expected to last 15 business days, according to local media.

All cases under national security law are heard by judges or magistrates specifically appointed by the city’s leader, Carrie Lam.

What is the controversy over the law?

The National Security Law was introduced in 2020 in response to the massive pro-democracy protests that swept through the city-state the previous year.

It essentially reduced Hong Kong’s judicial autonomy and made it easier to sanction protesters.

The law criminalizes secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces with the maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Beijing said the law would target “sedition” and bring stability, but critics said it violated the agreement under which Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997.

Since the law was enacted in June, more than 100 people have been arrested under its provisions.

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