A man bearing a sign saying “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” as he rode a motorcycle into police at a protest has become the first person charged with inciting separatism and terrorism under a new security law imposed on Hong Kong.
Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong late on Tuesday after weeks of objections from Hong Kongers and Western nations, setting China’s freest city and one of the world’s major financial hubs on to a more authoritarian path.
The law punishes crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison but critics say it is aimed at stamping out dissent and ending a long-running campaign for greater democracy in the city.
Police say 23-year-old Tong Ying-kit was charged under the law after he “rammed into” several officers at the unauthorised protest on Wednesday injuring some. He was initially arrested for dangerous driving, media said.
A video circulating online showed the driver knocking over several officers with his motorbike on a narrow street, before falling off and getting arrested.
The charge against him, as shown in a court document on Friday, comes less than 24 hours after the city’s government said the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” connotes separatism or subversion under the new law.
The rallying cry appears on placards at most rallies, is printed on T-shirts and accessories and scribbled on post-it notes on walls across the Chinese-ruled city.
The government’s ruling on the slogan will compound fears about the suppression of the global finance hub’s freedoms.
“The slogan ‘Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times’ nowadays connotes ‘Hong Kong independence’, or separating the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region [HKSAR] from the People’s Republic of China, altering the legal status of the HKSAR, or subverting the state power,” the Chinese government said in a statement.
China’s parliament adopted the security law in response to protests last year triggered by fears that Beijing was stifling the freedoms, guaranteed by a “one country, two systems” formula agreed when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Beijing denies the accusation.
Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said the legislation is aimed at a few “troublemakers” and will not affect the rights and freedoms that underpin the city’s role as a financial hub.
But the United States, Britain, Australia and others have denounced the new legislation and the United Nations said it feared it would restrict space for civil society and lead to the prosecution of activists.
Under the new legislation, the agency can take enforcement action beyond existing local laws in the most serious cases.
It also allows agents to take suspects across the border for trials in Communist Party-controlled courts and specifies special privileges for the agents, including that Hong Kong authorities cannot inspect their vehicles.
On Wednesday, the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, police arrested about 370 people during protests against the legislation, with 10 of those involving violations of the new law.
Demosisto, a pro-democracy group led by Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong, disbanded hours after the legislation was passed, while prominent group member Nathan Law left the city.
While the government said the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times” now indicated independence or separation of the city from China, altering its legal status or subversion, it was not unclear if independent courts would uphold that view.