A young Hong Kong democracy activist was charged with secession on Thursday, the first public politician to be prosecuted under a sweeping new national security law imposed by Beijing on the city.
Tony Chung, 19, appeared in court two days after he was arrested by plainclothes police at a Hong Kong cafe opposite the US Consulate, also charged with money laundering and conspiracy to post content seditious.
He has been remanded in custody until his next hearing on January 7 and faces a life sentence if convicted under the new law.
Chung is a former member of Student Localism, a small group that advocates Hong Kong’s independence from China.
The group said it disbanded its Hong Kong network shortly before Beijing introduced the city in its new security law at the end of June, but maintained its international chapters.
The legislation – a response to the huge and often violent pro-democracy protests that swept through the city last year – has banned a host of new crimes, including the expression of certain political views such as promoting independence or greater autonomy for Hong Kong.
Chung and three other members of Student Localism were first arrested by a newly formed national security police unit in July on suspicion of inciting secession through social media posts.
On Thursday, Amnesty International said the charges showed authorities were using the law to criminalize peaceful political expression.
“The escalating attacks on human rights in Hong Kong have been escalated to another level with this politically motivated arrest in which a peaceful student activist was charged and detained solely because the authorities failed. disagree with his point of view, “said Joshua Rosenzweig, head of Amnesty China. team.
The United States also condemned Chung’s arrest.
“The use of the Hong Kong Police National Security Unit to detain a minor in a cafe is reprehensible,” a State Department spokesperson said.
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Speculation revolved around the fact that the police moved to Chung because he hoped to seek asylum at the US consulate in Hong Kong.
A little-known group calling themselves the Friends of Hong Kong released a statement on Tuesday shortly after Chung’s arrest, claiming that they had tried to get Chung to enter the US consulate that day and there. seek refuge.
AFP was unable to independently verify the group’s allegations and Chung could not comment as he remained in custody.
His bail conditions since his first arrest have prevented him from leaving Hong Kong.
Claims for asylum in the United States must be made upon arrival in the country or through a United Nations refugee referral program.
With very rare exceptions, consulates and embassies tend not to grant asylum as this could trigger a huge diplomatic brawl.
Local media reported this week that four people who may have been trying to help Chung entered the US diplomatic mission on Tuesday but were turned away.
The consulate declined to comment.
A small but growing number of Hong Kong people have fled the city since Beijing’s crackdown on democracy protesters and recent asylum claims are known to have been successful in both Germany and Canada.
China bypassed the Hong Kong legislature to impose the new security law, keeping its contents secret until its introduction.
It targets a wide range of acts considered secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
Along with mass arrests and an anti-coronavirus ban on public gatherings, he has largely succeeded in rooting out mass protests and dissent.
But the root causes of last year’s huge gatherings remain unanswered and the city is still deeply polarized.
Critics say the law’s broad wording struck a hammer on the freedoms of the semi-autonomous city.
The legislation also ended the legal firewall between Hong Kong and the authoritarian mainland, allowing Chinese security officers to operate openly in the city for the first time.
Beijing said it would have jurisdiction over the most serious national security breaches.
About two dozen people have been arrested under the new law, including media mogul and staunch Beijing critic Jimmy Lai.
So far, only two have been charged – Chung and a man who allegedly rode his motorcycle in a group of police officers during a protest.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by GalacticGaming staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)