A teenager in Hong Kong has been ordered to spend four months in prison for insulting China’s national flag and unlawful assembly, as Beijing increasingly targets prominent activists from the financial hub.
Tony Chung, 19, who led a now-disbanded pro-democracy group, was convicted 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 to be tried for secession, which could lead to life imprisonment, according to the draconian national security law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong on 30 June.
Chung is the first public political figure to be 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 mass and 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 teenager also faces separate charges of money laundering and conspiring to publish seditious content.
Chung was arrested by plainclothes police opposite the US consulate in October and had been remanded in custody since.
There has been speculation that the authorities detained Chung because he was hoping to ask for asylum at the US consulate in Hong Kong.
An increasing number of pro-democracy activists across the political spectrum have fled Hong Kong since Beijing stepped up its crackdown on protests against China’s authoritarian rule.
Under the security law, dissenting speech instead of acts can be alleged of vague yet severe offences such as “subversion” and “collusion with foreign forces”.
The law has also toppled the legal firewall between Hong Kong’s internationally recognised 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 in Hong Kong on its wanted list for suspicion of breaching the national security law, including the self-exiled activists Ted Hui and Baggio Leung.
Prominent activists remaining in Hong Kong have either been jailed – including Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow – or face frequent arrests and multiple charges.
Jimmy Lai, a pro-democracy media mogul, has also been charged under the national security law. Last week, Hong Kong’s high court granted him bail from prison but placed him under house arrest. It also ordered him to surrender all travel documents and banned him from speaking to the press, making public statements, using social media, meeting foreign officials and “colluding with foreign forces”.
The ruling provoked heavy criticism from China, which threatened to extradite Lai to the mainland for trial.