Hong Kong teen activist Tony Chung charged with secession

Former 19-year-old leader of independence group is being held in custody as he awaits trial for secession under China-imposed security law.

Tony Chung is a former member of Studentlocalism, a small group that advocated Hong Kong's independence from China [Isaac Lawrence/ AFP].

A teenage former leader of a pro-independence group in Hong Kong who tried to seek shelter in the United States Consulate has been charged with secession, becoming the second person to be prosecuted for advocating independence under the territory’s sweeping China-imposed national security law.

Tony Chung, 19, appeared in court on Thursday charged with secession, money laundering and conspiring to publish seditious content, two days after he was arrested in a Hong Kong coffee shop close to the consulate.

He was denied bail and his next court appearance is set for January 7.

Chung is a former member of Studentlocalism, a small group that advocated Hong Kong’s independence from China. The group disbanded its Hong Kong network shortly before China enacted its new security law in late June, but has kept its international chapters going.

The contentious security legislation punishes what Beijing broadly defines as secession, sedition, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in jail.

Around two dozen people have been arrested under the new law, including newspaper tycoon Jimmy Lai, a staunch Beijing critic.

Only two have so far been charged – Chung and 23-year-old Tong Ying-kit, who was arrested in July after hanging a “Liberate Hong Kong” banner on his motorbike and allegedly riding into a group of police officers. He has also been remanded in custody.

Chung was also picked up in July on suspicion of being involved in an organisation that swore to fight for an independent Hong Kong but was given bail.

Amnesty International condemned the charges against Chung as the “latest attack on freedom of expression” in Hong Kong.

“The intensifying attack on human rights in Hong Kong has been ramped up another notch with this politically motivated arrest in which a peaceful student activist has been charged and detained solely because the authorities disagree with his views,” said Joshua Rosenzweig, the head of Amnesty International’s China team.

He added: “Tony Chung has been targeted solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression and he should be released immediately and unconditionally, and all charges against him dropped.”

Two other activists from Chung’s former group – Yanni Ho and William Chan – were also arrested then and again on Tuesday. The court allowed them bail.

Beijing has said the national security law is necessary to bring stability to the former British colony after a year of sometimes violent anti-government protests that started in June 2019.

Critics of the legislation say it is being used to crush wide-ranging freedoms granted to the city for at least 50 years when it was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

A number of people have found asylum overseas since the legislation was imposed and the United Kingdom, the territory’s former colonial ruler, has given all Hong Kong people with British National Overseas (BNO) status the right to settle and a path to citizenship.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies