A prison van, left, which a police officer says is carrying Tong Ying-kit arrives at a court in Hong Kong Wednesday, June 23,…
A prison van, left, which a police officer says is carrying Tong Ying-kit arrives at a court in Hong Kong, June 23, 2021.

A 24-year-old Hong Kong man Wednesday became the first defendant to be tried under the city’s nearly one-year-old national security law. 

Tong Ying-kit was arrested after he drove his motorbike into a group of police officers on July 1 last year, the day after Beijing imposed the sweeping, draconian law on the semi-autonomous city.  

The former restaurant cook was charged with terrorism and inciting secession for displaying a flag on his motorbike that read “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” a slogan popularized during the massive 2019 anti-government protests that prompted the new law.   

Hong Kong’s justice secretary has ordered Tong to be tried by a panel of three specially picked judges instead of facing an impartial jury, a move critics say erodes the  independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary.   

Tong, who has been held without bail since his arrest, entered a not guilty plea at the start of Wednesday’s hearing.  He faces life in prison if he is convicted. Tong is also facing a separate charge of causing grievous bodily harm by dangerous driving, which carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years. 

Anyone believed to be carrying out terrorism, separatism, subversion of state power or collusion with foreign forces could be tried and face life in prison if convicted under the national security law. Dozens of pro-democracy politicians and activists have been arrested under the law since it took effect.