HONG KONG - The verdict in Hong Kong's first national security law trial is expected on Tuesday (July 27), a landmark ruling that will be closely watched for possible bearings on future hearings.
The case of 24-year-old Tong Ying Kit is widely seen as an indicator of how Hong Kong's common law courts will apply and interpret the national security law written into the city's law books by Beijing in June last year.
The former waiter pleaded not guilty to charges of terrorism and inciting secession, as well as an alternative charge of dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm.
Tong is accused of driving his motorcycle into three riot policemen while carrying a flag with the protest slogan "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times" on July 1 last year.
Three judges appointed by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to hear national security cases - Justice Anthea Pang, Justice Esther Toh and Justice Wilson Chan - are to deliver their decision on the case at 3pm.
During the 15-day trial, the prosecution argued that Tong's acts were secessionist as his intention was to "communicate the meaning of the words on the flag".
It argued that the slogan connoted independence, separatism, subversion of state power or alteration of the city's legal status.
Prosecutors also said Tong committed terrorism when he used his vehicle to pursue a political agenda that involved either coercing the government or intimidating the public.
But the defence argued that Tong was "deliberately avoiding" the officers as he slowed down on his motorbike, adding that the slogan on the flag did not mean Hong Kong independence as the Chinese term "liberate" could have multiple meanings.
In what some legal experts have pointed out was a departure from the common law, Tong was denied bail and has been in custody since July 1 last year.
The High Court ruled last August that he was a "flight risk" and had a "risk of reoffending".
Typically, bail is granted to accused people unless prosecutors can prove a need to hold them in custody until trial. Under the national security law, the burden rests with the defendant to prove they will not break the law if released on bail.
The Court of Appeal also upheld the decision by Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng for the case to be tried without a jury. It is common in Hong Kong to have a jury in trials, but the High Court did not view it as an "indispensable element".
Prosecution previously argued that a jury trial would pose a threat to the personal safety of jurors and their family members.
Tong is one of more than 120 people arrested under the city's national security law.
If convicted, he could face life in prison.