A student activist told a court on Wednesday he did not regret continuing his push for Hong Kong independence even after the national security law took effect as he pleaded guilty to secession and money-laundering offences.
Tony Chung Hon-lam, 20, became the youngest person to be convicted under the Beijing-imposed legislation when he admitted to two of the four charges he was facing at the District Court. The prosecution will not pursue the other two charges under the terms of a plea bargain arrangement.
When asked for his plea to the secession charge, the founder of the now-defunct Studentlocalism group said: “I plead guilty. I have a clear conscience.”
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But the response did not sit well with District Judge Stanley Chan Kwong-chi, who warned the activist against making “political declarations”.
Chan said jail was “the most probable sentence” but added that he was legally bound to assess the defendant’s suitability for a non-custodial punishment given his young age.
“There must not be a misconception that a non-custodial sentence is a possibility,” added the judge, who is among a pool of jurists hand-picked by city leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to handle security law proceedings.
Chung is the third person to plead guilty to national security law charges since it took effect on June 30 last year to outlaw acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
Activist Andy Li Yu-hin, 30, and paralegal Chan Tsz-wah, 29, were the first to plead guilty, admitting collusion with foreign forces. A High Court judge designated to hear security law sittings has adjourned their sentences indefinitely without explaining why in open court.
The first person to be convicted of national security charges was restaurant worker Leon Tong Ying-kit, 24, who was jailed for nine years for inciting secession and engaging in terrorism.
The prosecution said Chung sought to separate Hong Kong from mainland China, or to alter the city’s legal status unlawfully, between July 1 and October 27 last year.
But more than half of its 69-page case summary centred on Chung’s activities on social media and involvement in the Studentlocalism group before the enactment of the security law, with some events dating back to 2016.
Prosecutor Ivan Cheung Cheuk-kan said they were relevant as the activist continued to advocate independence on Facebook via a proxy, only known by his username “Yoshi HK”, after the new law took effect.
Despite the group’s dissolution, Chung remained the administrator of its Facebook page, which continued to publish separatist posts.
Chung, via the proxy, also announced the establishment of an Initiative Independence Party in July last year to further his independence agenda.
The defendant was also accused under the Theft Ordinance of dealing with property known or believed to represent proceeds of an indictable offence, involving HK$135,954.59 deposited into a PayPal account by 95 supporters of Studentlocalism.
He faced another count of money laundering involving more than HK$582,000 in an HSBC account and a separate charge of conspiracy to publish seditious publications. But prosecutors agreed not to pursue those charges following the guilty pleas to the other two offences.
Chung will be sentenced on November 23 pending a background report.
Secession is punishable by life imprisonment while money laundering carries a maximum sentence of 14 years, but prison terms are capped at seven years when the case is heard at the District Court.
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