Hong Kong student activist Tony Chung pleaded guilty on Wednesday to secession under the Beijing-imposed national security law and to money laundering as part of a plea deal.

Chung, represented by Senior Counsel Edwin Choy, appeared at the District Court in front of one of the city’s handpicked national security judges, Stanley Chan.

Tony Chung Hon-lam
Tony Chung Hon-lam. File Photo: HKFP.

Chung, wearing a blue suit jacket and white shirt, nodded to the public gallery while some people held a fist up in the air before the court session began.

Chan said that he would authorise the prosecution to prepare a camera to film the public gallery, as the judge said that a woman shouted “hang in there” to Chung as Chan was leaving the court on Tuesday.

The judge also said that anyone who “thought that the freedom of speech was greater than the order of the criminal court” had to “bear consequences,” and that those not following court rules “brought shame to the majority of people in society.”

‘No shame in my heart’

The court clerk read out each charge and asked whether the 20-year-old understood and what his plea was. After the clerk read out the secession charge, Chung said “I plead guilty, I have no shame in my heart.”

Chan then interrupted the clerk and told Chung to “not make any political declaration.” The activist then pleaded guilty to one charge of money laundering.

The former Studentlocalism convenor faced four charges, including conspiracy to publish seditious materials and another count of money laundering. Chung pleaded not guilty to both charges.

The prosecution said on Tuesday that they may not proceed with the other two charges, if Chung pleads guilty to secession and one charge of money laundering. On Wednesday, the judge announced that the conspiracy to publish seditious materials charge and another count of money laundering will be filed in court.

District Court
District Court. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The prosecutor then read out the summary of facts for the secession and money laundering charges, citing social media posts dating back to 2016. The contents included calls for the public to join protests, and push to “get rid of Chinese colonial rule,” as well as the mission and manifesto of the group.

Social media posts of Studentlocalism’s US division were also read out in court. The group in Hong Kong disbanded soon after the enactment of the national security law in June last year.

The prosecution said that Chung was a manager of Studentlocalism’s Facebook pages, and that social media posts and recruitment links were still operational after the enactment of the national security law. The number of followers and posts of the group’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts were also read out in court.

The prosecutor also read out names and amount of donations made to Chung’s PayPal accounts of people who gave more than HK$1,000 to the 20-year-old, as well as messages included in the payments, with content such as “keep it up” and “Hong Kong independence.”

Security law cases

While any person convicted of secession could face life imprisonment, the maximum prison term the District Court can impose is seven years.

The national security law also criminalised subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure.

Chung was the second case where the defendant pleaded guilty to a national security law charge. Pro-democracy activist Andy Li and paralegal Chan Tsz-wah were the first people to admit to violating the sweeping legislation.

Tong Ying-kit was the first person to be convicted under the legislation for inciting secession and engaging in terrorist acts, and was sentenced to nine years in prison. Ma Chun-man is awaiting his sentence after being convicted of inciting secession.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.