HONG KONG • The first person charged under a sweeping security law imposed on Hong Kong by China earlier this year has pleaded not guilty, setting the stage for a landmark trial in the coming months.
Tong Ying-kit, 24, entered the plea on charges of incitement to secession and engaging in terrorist activities during an appearance yesterday at the West Kowloon Magistrates' Court. Chief Magistrate So Wai-tak kept Tong in custody and transferred his case to the High Court for trial.
The case is being closely watched for clues to how the government intends to handle the national security law, which lawyers say contains provisions that might conflict with Hong Kong's Common Law-based legal tradition.
The city's independent courts and rule of law - preserved under a one country, two systems framework - are often credited for its continued success as one of the world's leading financial capitals.
The Group of Seven nations accused China of violating the terms of its handover agreement with Britain by imposing the security law on Hong Kong, while the US revoked many special privileges granted to the city and sanctioned more than a dozen senior officials who oversee the territory.
The Trump administration is planning further actions to punish Beijing for its actions in Hong Kong the coming weeks, according to a senior administration official.
Tong, a local waiter, was among several people arrested in connection with protests on July 1 against the legislation, which was handed down the previous night without input from the local legislature.
He is accused of driving a motorcycle into a group of police officers, while displaying a banner reading "Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times", a popular protest slogan that the authorities have banned under the security law.
The defendant is the only person among the 23 so far arrested under the law charged with committing a violent act, although another has been accused of possessing knives and a paint ball gun. Most of the other cases involve allegations of chanting slogans, waiving banners or publishing online material deemed secessionist.
Tong has been detained since July 6, when he was charged with inciting secession and engaging in terrorism. The High Court in August dismissed an application by Tong to have his detention declared unlawful.