China

Hong Kong activist Tony Chung jailed under national security law


A 20-year-old student activist who was arrested while attempting to seek asylum at the US consulate in Hong Kong has become the youngest person sentenced under the city’s draconian national security law.

Tony Chung was sentenced to three years and seven months in prison after being convicted of secession and money laundering.

The secession charge related to an activist group that had disbanded in Hong Kong, social media posts, and possession of independence materials which had been made illegal by the national security law.

The district criminal court judge Stanley Chan said Chung “played an active role in promoting the independence of Hong Kong”, through the group he founded, which was called Studentlocalism. Chan said even though Chung had disbanded Studentlocalism when the national security law was established – making such activities illegal – Chung “continued his endeavour and the pursuit of his political ideas” through the establishment of a US-based division.

Prosecutors had presented as evidence pro-independence T-shirts, flags and books seized from Chung’s home in a police raid in 2020, and a PayPal account Chung had run until October 2020 to receive donations. During mitigation Chung’s legal team had said the money received was used for the organisation’s operations, and that Chung had no intention to make a profit, according to local media.

Earlier this month Chung pleaded guilty to the charges of secession and one count of money laundering, but pleaded not guilty to a second money laundering charge and one of sedition. Those charges were left on the court file. The judge granted a 25% reduction in sentence due to the guilty pleas, ordering 40 months for secession.

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The 40-month sentence for secession and 18 months for money laundering will be mostly served concurrently for 43 months.

Beijing imposed the security law in June 2020. The law punishes anything deemed as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison. Since its enactment, Hong Kong has taken an authoritarian turn, with most democratic politicians now in jail or in self-exile. Dozens of civil society organisations have folded, and some international rights groups have left the city.

Chung has been in detention since October 2020, held on remand since his arrest outside the US consulate. In December 2020 he was also sentenced to four months in jail for insulting the Chinese flag and unlawful assembly.

Chung and two others were detained by unidentified men at a coffee shop near the US consulate, where they had been waiting for it to open. His supporters said at the time Chung had been intending to seek political asylum. They said Chung had submitted his paperwork weeks earlier, but fear of an imminent arrest prompted him to seek shelter inside the consulate.

Johnny Patterson, the policy director of the UK-based advocacy group Hong Kong Watch, said: “Tony Chung’s sentencing is disproportionate, draconian, and sets a dangerous precedent for other young Hongkongers whose only crime is using social media to protest the dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms.

“At 20 years old, Tony Chung is the youngest person to be sentenced under this draconian law. He will not be the last.”



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