The first person to be convicted under Hong Kong’s national security law is a “decent young man” who had not committed a serious offence, his defence team told three High Court judges on Thursday, urging them to be as lenient as possible with Tong Ying-kit.

National security judges Anthea Pang (left), Esther Toh (centre), Wilson Chan (right.) Photo: HKFP Compilation.

Tong, 24, is set to be sentenced on Friday afternoon. In a landmark verdict on Tuesday, he was convicted of incitement to secession and of terrorism under a Beijing-imposed law which provides for a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Tong was arrested on July 1 last year, after he rode a motorcycle with a flag reading “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” into three policemen during a demonstration in Wan Chai. In a departure from Hong Kong’s common law tradition, he was denied bail and a jury trial.

Tong Ying-kit’s representative Clive Grossman leaving the High Court on July 27, 2021 after Tong was convicted of two charges under the national security law. File Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Senior Counsel Clive Grossman, offering mitigation on Thursday, submitted that the offences Tong was convicted of were not serious in nature, as he was “waving a flag generally” instead of directing actions of incitement at specific individuals. There was no evidence other individuals were incited by his actions, Stand News reported Grossman as saying.

Grossman also argued that as the city’s first national security trial, the case had received widespread public attention and served its purpose by making the public aware of the serious consequences of offending.

Tong, who was the breadwinner in his family, lived with his father and his sister in a public housing estate, the defence said. He graduated from form five secondary school and worked as a restaurant waiter. He may also not be able to see his grandmother again as she suffers from cancer.

Tong had attended classes while in custody awaiting trial and hoped to work at a cafe in the future. He felt genuine remorse for his actions, the defence said.

The defence submitted that Tong was a “decent young man” who had helped provide first-aid to people injured in the protests regardless of their political stance, and asked the judges to “be as lenient as [they] can.”

High Court. File Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The defence submitted that the court could consider sentencing Tong to between three to 10 years in prison in accordance with the national security law, and for the sentences to be served concurrently.

Under the national security law, a person convicted of inciting secession may be sentenced to less than five years in prison for a minor offence and five to ten years if it was serious. Terrorist activities are punishable by three to 10 years if the offence is relatively minor, or up to life imprisonment in case of significant loss, injuries or death.

Mainland legal references

Prosecutor Ivan Cheung submitted that the court could consider “commentaries and legal text” from mainland China, and submitted a legal textbook published in simplified Chinese characters to the court for its reference. However the justices said their sentencing would refer to the usual statutory interpretations.

Cheung also submitted that Tang has four traffic offence records and said his driving licence should be suspended. The defence made no objection to the order.

Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.