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Lawyer for Hong Kong Protester Asks Court for Shorter Term

FILE - In this July 6, 2020, photo, Tong Ying-kit arrives at a court in a police van in Hong Kong.
FILE - In this July 6, 2020, photo, Tong Ying-kit arrives at a court in a police van in Hong Kong.

A lawyer for the first person convicted under Hong Kong’s national security law asked Thursday for no more than 10 years in prison instead of the possible life sentence faced by the former restaurant waiter in a closely watched case as China’s ruling Communist Party tries to crush a pro-democracy movement.

Tong Ying-kit was convicted Tuesday of inciting secession and terrorism for driving his motorcycle into a group of police officers during a July 1, 2020, pro-democracy rally while carrying a flag bearing the banned slogan, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.”

Tong, 24, will be sentenced Friday, the Hong Kong High Court announced.

Beijing imposed the security law on the former British colony last year following anti-government protests that erupted in mid-2019. The crackdown prompted complaints the ruling party is violating the autonomy promised when Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 and hurting its status as a global business center. Officials reject the criticisms and say Beijing is restoring order and instituting national security protections similar to those of other countries.

At a hearing, Tong’s lead defense lawyer, Clive Grossman, asked the three-judge panel for a sentence of no more than 10 years. He said the court hadn’t found the attack was deliberate, no one was injured and Tong’s secession-related offense qualified as minor under the law.

The court ruled Tuesday that Tong’s actions were an act of violence aimed at coercing the Hong Kong and mainland governments and intimidating the public. It said carrying the flag was an act of incitement to secession, rejecting defense arguments that Tong couldn’t proven to be inciting secession just by using the slogan.

Prosecutor Ivan Cheung asked for at least three years.

Judge Anthea Pang said the court will follow the “usual statutory term” and legal interpretations of the national security law but gave no indication what that might be.

Tong, wearing a black shirt and tie with a blue blazer, talked with his lawyers before the hearing but didn’t address the court. Relatives waved to Tong as he left and said, “see you tomorrow.”

The last pro-democracy Hong Kong newspaper, Apple Daily, shut down last month after journalists and executives were arrested.

Tong’s trial was conducted by judges without a jury under rules that allow an exception to Hong Kong’s British-style common law system if state secrets need to be protected or foreign forces are involved. The judges were picked by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.