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Hong Kong protester handed nine-year sentence in landmark security law case

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By Euronews with AP
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Tong Ying-kit arriving at court in July 6, 2020
Tong Ying-kit arriving at court in July 6, 2020   -   Copyright  Vincent Yu/AP
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A pro-democracy protester in Hong Kong has been sentenced to nine years in prison, after being the first person to be convicted under a new national security law.

The law, and the crackdown against pro-democracy activists are both seen as part of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s tightening of control over the territory.

Tong Ying-kit, 24, was convicted of inciting secession and terrorism for driving his motorcycle into a group of police officers at a July 1, 2020, rally.

He carried a flag bearing the banned slogan, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.”

Beijing imposed the security law on the former British colony last year following anti-government protests that erupted in mid-2019.

The sentence was markedly longer than the three years requested by the prosecution.

Tong's defence lawyers appealed for no more than 10. He faced a possible maximum of life in prison.

Tong, a restaurant worker, pleaded not guilty to the charges during the trial, arguing the slogan itself does not call for secession.

Nabila Massrali, the European Union's foreign policy spokesperson said following Tong's conviction that the national security law "is being used to stifle political pluralism and the exercise of human rights and political freedoms in Hong Kong."

"The arrests of pro-democracy activists and the targeting of those who defend rights and freedoms and democratic values should end," she added.

Nathan Law, a pro-democracy activist, and former Hong Kong lawmaker told Euronews that the sentencing was a "political show trial".

"It really sets an awful benchmark for the other national security law cases," he added.

"It instils fear and we are all worried about whether others will receive a much more severe sentence."

Tong's trial was conducted without a jury under rules that allow an exception to Hong Kong’s British-style common law system if state secrets need to be protected or foreign forces are involved.

The judges were picked by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

Rights groups have already condemned his conviction and are bracing for further such trials.

More than 100 people have been arrested under the legislation.

All the major pro-democracy figures have either been jailed, sought asylum abroad, or been intimidated into silence.

Critics accuse Beijing of violating the autonomy and Western-style civil liberties promised when Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 and hurting its status as a trading and financial centre.

Officials reject the criticism and say Beijing is restoring order and instituting security protections like those of other countries.

Click on the player above to watch the interview with Nathan Law.