A popular chant during Hong Kong’s 2019 anti-government protests had the effect of inciting separatism, as it implied an objective of overthrowing Beijing and recovering the city from “enemy hands”, prosecutors argued on Wednesday as the first trial under the national security law got under way.
Tong Ying-kit, 24, faces secession and terrorism charges for allegedly driving a motorcycle into three police officers while carrying a flag that called for the city’s liberation on July 1 last year. He faces life in prison if convicted.
The High Court heard the defendant intended to display the flag, emblazoned with the words “Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times”, in high-profile fashion in a bid to attract media attention that afternoon and encourage others to break the law, which Beijing had imposed only the night before.
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Tong also aimed to cause serious harm to society by ramming his way through multiple police roadblocks and inflicting grave injuries on officers to further his political agenda, prosecutor Anthony Chau Tin-hang said in his opening statement.
Tong also faces a third charge of dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm, which serves as an alternative charge to the terrorism offence.
In his remarks, Chau summarised a report by Lingnan University vice-president Lau Chi-pang, a historian affiliated with the semi-official think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies who is set to testify on the meaning of the “Liberate Hong Kong” slogan.
Lau has taken the view that the slogan’s most recent meaning was “not significantly different” from when it was first popularised by jailed activist Edward Leung Tin-kei during a 2016 Legislative Council campaign in which he openly supported Hong Kong’s independence.
Lau has said he believed the chant was first used in 2019 by protesters gathered outside Beijing’s liaison office, where the national emblem and other facilities were vandalised. He has concluded the slogan’s fundamental objective was to cause the city’s separation from China.
The slogan, Chau said in his opening statement, was a call to recover the city from “enemy hands”.
“And by extension of that, the words mean not admitting [Hong Kong] is part of the [People’s Republic of China], and viewing the PRC regime as an enemy,” he said.
The second part of the slogan, the prosecutor continued, could be interpreted as calling for toppling the existing regime or social system.
The court heard that Tong was first caught on security camera at 3pm on the day in question on the Kowloon side of the Eastern Harbour Tunnel.
He headed towards Wan Chai, where a protest against the security law was taking place, running past three police cordons on Hennessy and Luard roads before colliding with three officers at a fourth near the junction of Jaffe and O’Brien roads.
Constable Lee Ho-ming suffered scratches and bruises on his limbs, as well as tenderness in the lower back, shoulders and hands. Detective Constable Ip Wai-chuen suffered a dislocated right thumb, while the third officer, Constable Yeung Chun-yiu, experienced pain in the chest and the right thumb. The three were each granted between five and 40 days of sick leave.
Messaging records showed Tong knew prior to the incident that roadblocks were set up on Hong Kong Island, and that he had intended to go to a cafe in Causeway Bay that he described as a “safe spot”.
In one conversation, Tong told an unidentified person he was not running late, adding: “They are just gathering people now. This is just the right time.”
Tong’s case is being heard by three judges – Esther Toh Lye-ping, Anthea Pang Po-kam and Wilson Chan Ka-shun – hand-picked by city leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor for a pool of jurists eligible to oversee security law cases.
The trial is expected to last three weeks.
Meanwhile, police arrested a 54-year-old man on Wednesday morning on suspicion of taking a photo of a reporter at the High Court before the start of Tong’s trial. Taking photos inside a Hong Kong court is against the law.
The suspect was subsequently escorted to Central Police Station for questioning.
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