hong-kong039s-first-trial-under-national-security-law-starts-without-jury

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image captionTong Ying-kit could face life in prison

Hong Kong’s first trial under its harsh national security law began on Wednesday in a controversial trial without jury.

Tong Ying-kit is charged with inciting secession and terrorism.

The 24-year old was allegedly flying a banner calling for the “liberation” of Hong Kong. He faces life in jail.

Beijing enforced the law in June 2020, criminalising “subversive” acts but critics say it silences dissent and strips Hong Kong of its autonomy.

It came into force after a series of mass pro-democracy protests in 2019, some of which turned violent.

Beijing and Hong Kong authorities say the law – widely criticised internationally – was needed to bring stability.

What are the details of the case?

Mr Tong was arrested on 1 July 2020, accused of riding his motorbike into a group of police and injuring some of them.

He is also alleged to have been carrying a flag that read “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times”.

A popular slogan among the protesters at the time, it became illegal under the national security law which criminalises secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

Violations of the law carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Mr Tong also faces separate charges of dangerous driving.

image copyrightISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP

image captionBanners like this are now illegal in Hong Kong

Why is there no jury?

The defendant’s legal team has been pushing for the case to be heard by a jury, arguing it was Mr Tong’s right given that he potentially faces a life sentence if found guilty.

The national security law however does allow in some cases for trials by selected judges.

Hong Kong’s justice secretary argued that a jury trial in this case would put jurors safety at risk given the city’s tense political situation.

The trial without jury is seen as a landmark moment for Hong Kong’s fast-changing legal traditions.

It is expected to last 15 working days.

What is the controversy over the law?

The national security law was introduced in 2020 in response to massive pro-democracy protests that swept the city state the previous year.

It essentially reduced Hong Kong’s judicial autonomy and made it easier to punish demonstrators.

The law criminalises secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces with the maximum sentence life in prison.

Beijing said the law would target “sedition” and bring stability, but critics have said it violates the agreement under which Britain handed back Hong Kong to China in 1997.

Since the law was enacted in June, more than 100 people have been arrested under its provisions.

media captionFrom protests to ‘patriots’: Why China is bent on crushing Hong Kong dissent