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Tong Ying-kit, the first person charged under Hong Kong’s year-old National Security Law, went on trial on Wednesday, accused of “secession” and “terrorism” for riding a motorbike carrying a flag that called for the Chinese territory’s liberation into a group of police officers.
The 24-year-old, who pleaded not guilty, is also accused of dangerous driving. He faces life in prison if convicted.
The trial, before three judges and without a jury, is the first under the legislation that China imposed last year after months of protests in 2019. Authorities in Hong Kong and China argued the broadly-worded law was necessary to restore stability to Hong Kong after some of the demonstrations turned violent, and was likely only to be applied in a tiny number of cases.
Critics said it is being used as tool to quash the pro-democracy movement with dozens of politicians and activists arrested since it came into force.
Diplomats from the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were outside the court and proceedings got under way at about 10:45am (02:45 GMT), according to Citizen News.
Al Jazeera’s Divya Gopalan, who is in Hong Kong, said the proceedings against Tong were being seen as a “landmark” case in jurisdiction where jury trials are seen as a cornerstone of the common law system.
“Many are watching for clues on how security cases will be conducted,” she said. “There is already concern that this case will undermine the rule of law in Hong Kong.”
Tong was detained on July 1, hours after the legislation was imposed, after he allegedly drove his motorbike deliberately into a group of police officers during that day’s protests against the security law. The bike was flying a black flag with the words “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times”, a slogan made illegal under the law.
Under the security legislation, cases can be decided by three judges rather than a jury. The three judges hearing Tong’s case were appointed by the territory’s chief executive.
Separately, Hong Kong police announced on Wednesday they had arrested a 55-year-old man on suspicion of “collusion” with foreign forces, which is also an offence under the security law.
The arrest was linked to the raid last week on the pro-democracy Apple Daily, the police added.
The newspaper, which faces closure after its top editors and executives were arrested and its assets frozen, said the man was a columnist for its Chinese-language paper who wrote under the name Li Ping.
Apple Daily’s owner, 73-year-old Jimmy Lai, is also in jail facing trial under national security charges. He has been denied bail.