Hong Kong: First national security law conviction is ‘beginning of the end’ for freedom of expression

Responding to the conviction of Hongkonger Tong Ying-kit for “inciting secession” and “acts of terrorism” following the first trial under the city’s 2020 national security law, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra said:

“The conviction of Tong Ying-kit is a significant and ominous moment for human rights in Hong Kong. Today’s verdict underlines the sobering fact that expressing certain political opinions in the city is now officially a crime, potentially punishable by life in jail.

“To convict Tong Ying-kit of ‘secession’ for displaying a flag bearing a widely used political slogan is a violation of international law, under which expression must not be criminalized unless it poses a concrete threat. This feels like the beginning of the end for freedom of expression in Hong Kong.

“People should be free to use political slogans during protests, and Tong Ying-kit should not be punished for exercising his right to free speech. It is particularly clear that he should never have been charged with a ‘national security’ offence carrying a possible life sentence.

“Hong Kong authorities must ensure that any legal provisions aimed at protecting national security, or created in the name of counterterrorism, are clearly and narrowly defined and that their use conforms to international human rights law and standards.”


On 1 July 2020, the first full day of the national security being in force, Tong Ying-kit drove a motorcycle towards a group of police officers while displaying a flag bearing the common protest slogan, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times”.

A first instance court in Hong Kong today convicted him of “inciting secession” and “acts of terrorism” under the national security law (NSL). Prosecutors said the slogan on the flag signified a desire to overthrow the government and deemed it to “connotate separation from China”.

Tong Ying-kit, who has been remanded into custody since 6 July 2020, is the first person convicted under the national security law and faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

He was denied the right to trial by jury – used in Hong Kong’s common law system for 176 years – after the justice secretary said there was a potential risk to the jurors.

Under international human rights law, displaying political slogans is in principle protected as legitimate expression.

The Hong Kong authorities’ sweeping definition of “national security”, which follows that of mainland China, has been used arbitrarily as a pretext to restrict the human rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, fair trial and liberty, as well as to repress dissent and political opposition.

Between 1 July 2020 and 26 July 2021, police arrested or ordered the arrest of at least 138 people in relation to the NSL. As of 26 July 2021, 68 people have been formally charged, of whom 51 are presently in pretrial detention.

An Amnesty International research briefing released last month found that the NSL has decimated Hong Kong’s freedoms and created a landscape increasingly devoid of human rights protections.

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