The first case of alleged violation of the “Hong Kong version of the National Security Law” in Hong Kong, which has received widespread attention, began on Wednesday (June 23) in the High Court of Hong Kong, with the defendant refusing to plead guilty in court. The case is widely watched because it could become a precedent for similar cases in the future.
Tang Yingjie, 24, is accused of ramming his motorcycle into riot police officers on guard duty in Wanchai on July 1, 2020, just hours after the Hong Kong version of the national security law came into effect and during an outbreak of “anti-China” protests across Hong Kong, injuring three police officers. A banner with the words “Restoration of Hong Kong, Revolution of the Times” was placed on Tang’s motorcycle.
Tang was arrested on the spot and later charged with three counts of inciting others to secede from the state, terrorism and dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm.
At his first court hearing on Wednesday, Tang pleaded “not guilty” to all charges.
A conviction for violating the national security law, which was drafted and promoted by Beijing, carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. The three charges against Tang carry a maximum sentence of seven years in prison if he is convicted.
The judge denied Tang’s application for bail at his first court hearing since his arrest on July 6 last year.
Under the common law (or customary law, or case law) as practiced in Hong Kong, defendants are usually entitled to bail until they are convicted. And if the prosecution opposes bail, the onus is on the prosecution to present a strong legal basis for denying bail. But under Section 42 of the National Security Law, the court is inclined to deny bail unless the defense can convince the court that it “will not continue to commit acts against national security” after release on bail. This is the opposite of the principle of presumption of innocence.
On Tuesday (June 22), the day before the trial in Tang’s case began, the Hong Kong Court of Appeal upheld the decision not to empanel a jury. When the trial began on Wednesday, it was the three NSA-appointed judges who co-chaired the case in court.
Citing analysis from Hong Kong judicial sources, Reuters reported that the jury system is one of the most important features of Hong Kong’s judicial system and is designed to give defendants extra protection against abuses by the executive. But Article 46 of Hong Kong’s national security law, drafted and promoted by Beijing, provides that
Juries can be eliminated or not set up under three circumstances: to protect state secrets; when the case involves foreign powers; and to protect the safety of jurors.
The Hong Kong Court of Appeal on Tuesday upheld the decision not to empanel a jury in Tang’s case, citing “possible threats to the safety of the jurors and their families.
The prosecution reportedly claimed in court on Wednesday that the defendant’s placement of a banner on a motorcycle reading “Restoration of Hong Kong, Revolution of the Times” implied “Hong Kong independence” and a lack of recognition of national sovereignty, and that the use of political language had the effect of The use of political language has the purpose of “separating Hong Kong from the country or subverting state power”.
According to a Reuters report, Tang’s case was seen as a deviation from Hong Kong’s common law tradition because of his denial of bail and jury trial, and a test of the government’s claim that the slogan “Restoring Hong Kong and the revolution of the times” is an allegation of secession.
As the first person to be tried for allegedly violating Hong Kong’s version of the National Security Law, the trial and verdict in Tang’s case will set an important precedent and have a significant impact on other similar cases, including those of such iconic figures as Next Media Group founder Lai Chi-ying.