A Hong Kong protester was sentenced to nine years in prison on Friday just days after a court convicted him in the city’s first trial under a new national security law that the Chinese government has used to curb dissent and opposition voices within the territory.
Tong Ying-kit, 24, was given 6 1/2 years for a secession charge and another eight years for a terrorism charge, which a panel of high court judges ruled Friday could be served concurrently for a total of nine years, according to Bloomberg.
The judges, Anthea Pang, Esther Toh and Wilson Chan, wrote in their opinion, “The punishment must have as its aim a general deterrent effect on the community as a whole, as well as a specific deterrent effect on the individual in question.”
The court convicted Tong on Tuesday of inciting secession and terrorism when he drove into three riot policemen on his motorcycle while carrying a flag that said, "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.”
Tong has pleaded not guilty to the charges, with his lawyers arguing that the flag did not advocate for succession, and that he did not intend to drive into the officers.
The trial had no jury and the court’s panel of judges denied Tong bail.
Human rights groups had condemned Tong’s conviction this week, including Amnesty International, which called the ruling “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,” the group said.
The national security law, which was imposed on Hong Kong by China’s central government last year, limits Hong Kong’s judicial authority over cases and gives China greater control over punishments of demonstrators and activists.
The law has been condemned by several countries, including the U.S., as improper government control over free speech and protests, especially after Hong Kong erupted into months of mass protests in 2019.
The protests initially began in opposition to a bill that would have allowed extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China, but quickly developed into widespread pro-democracy demonstrations in the territory that China has claimed as its own since it was handed over from the British government in 1997.