A Hong Kong teenager was ordered to spend four months in prison on Tuesday for insulting China’s national flag and unlawful assembly as Beijing increasingly targets prominent activists from the financial hub.
Tony Chung, a 19-year-old who led a now-disbanded pro-democracy group, was convicted earlier this month for throwing the Chinese flag to the ground during scuffles outside Hong Kong’s legislature in May 2019.
While serving his sentence, Chung will be waiting for trial over a charge of “secession,” which could land him life imprisonment according to the draconian national security law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong on 30 June.
Chung is the first public political figure prosecuted under the new security law, which Beijing described as a “sword” to return “order and stability” to the financial hub after seven months of massive, often violent pro-democracy protests last year.
He was sentenced to three months each for insulting the national flag and unlawful assembly, and told to serve four months behind bars.
The teen is also facing separate charges of money laundering and conspiring to publish seditious content.
Chung was arrested by plainclothes police opposite the US consulate in late October and had been remanded in custody since.
Speculation has swirled that the authorities moved on Chung because he was hoping to ask for asylum at the US consulate in Hong Kong.
In increasing numbers pro-democracy activists across the political spectrum have fled Hong Kong since Beijing stepped up its crackdown on the city’s protests against China’s authoritarian rule.
Under the security law, dissenting speech instead of acts can be alleged to constitute vague yet severe offenses like “subversion” and “collusion with foreign forces.”
The law has also toppled the legal firewall between Hong Kong’s internationally recognized common law judiciary and the opaque, party-controlled justice system in mainland China by allowing extradition of suspects across the border for trial.
Last Sunday, China’s state TV CGTN reported that Hong Kong police had put 30 people who are not currently in Hong Kong on its wanted list for suspicion of breaching the national security law, including self-exiled activists Ted Hui and Baggio Leung.
Prominent activists remaining in Hong Kong either have been jailed, as Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow have, or are facing frequent arrests and multiple charges.
Jimmy Lai, a pro-democracy media mogul who is also charged under the national security law, has been placed under house arrest and stripped of public speech – his Twitter account included.
Hong Kong’s High Court granted him bail last week. The decision, however, provoked serious criticism from China, which threatened to extradite Lai to the mainland for trial.