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Hong Kong Activist Sentenced to Over 3.5 Years in Prison for Secession and Money Laundering

Published: November 23, 2021
HONG KONG, CHINA - APRIL 15: Hong Kong Police officers march in the Chinese-style for the first time in public during an open day to celebrate National Security Education Day at the Hong Kong Police College on April 15, 2021 in Hong Kong, China. Hong Kong is holding its first National Security Education Day following China's imposition of sweeping national security legislation last year as part of the city's efforts to revamp its school system after a wave of protests in 2019.(Image: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

On Nov. 23 Hong Kong activist, Tony Chung, former convenor of Studentlocalism, was sentenced to prison by a Hong Kong court to 3 years and 7 months for secession and money laundering. Chung, 20, is the youngest person to be tried, convicted and sentenced under the Hong Kong National Security Law (NSL) which was enacted in June of 2020.

The young man pleaded guilty to two charges levied against him stating he did so with “no shame in my heart.” Three weeks ago Chung was reportedly rebuked by judge Stanely Chan for making a political declaration in court. 

For the first charge of secession, Chung was sentenced to three years and four months and was additionally sentenced to a year and a half for money laundering, with three months served non concurrently, totalling 43 months. 

Previously he had been given “a four-month jail sentence for insulting the Chinese national flag [and] was arrested in October last year near the US consulate in Hong Kong, reportedly en route to seek asylum,” the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reported.

Chung had pleaded not guilty to two other charges, conspiracy to publish seditious materials and money laundering, charges that were left on file under a plea bargain deal. 

Chung faced up to seven years in prison under the NSL as he was considered by the courts an active participant in attempting to break up the country. District Court Judge, Stanley Chan, told the courtroom, “Even though the defendant did not have concrete plans to split the country, his goal was very much clear. The [charge] of secession does not require actual plans.”

“The defendant thought he could change the location for his activities to overseas, and therefore created [social media pages] for the US branch of [Studentlocalism],” Chan said, adding that, “While there was no evidence that Chan had wanted to enter the US consulate to demand their action, the fact is that he was arrested nearby,” HKFP reported.

Chung’s seditious activities included pushing for independence on social media platforms and organising informational street booths. Some events dated as far back as 2016 when Chung would have been only 16-years-old. 

Money laundering charge tenuous 

As for the charges of money laundering, Chung was accused of siphoning funds from his advocacy group, Studentlocalism. 

Judge Chan asked Chung’s defence counsel, Edwin Choy, if there was any reason to believe that the defendant had spent any of the funds collected for advocacy for his personal use. While Choy denied this, saying funds were wired to Chung’s personal account because his advocacy group did not have a business account, the court asserted that there was evidence that not all of the funds were spent on advocacy. 

“Some must have been pocketed, because it was a private account. In other words it’s just an ATM,” the judge said.

Johnny Patterson, director of Hong Kong Watch, a UK-based registered charity which researches and monitors threats to Hong Kong’s basic freedoms tweeted in response to Chung’s sentence, “Tony Chung’s sentencing is disproportionate, draconian, and sets a dangerous precedent for young Hongkongers whose only crime is using social media to protest the dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms.”

Multiple Hong Kong activists and groups targeted

Chung is but the latest activist to be added to a growing list of pro-democracy activists who have been targeted by Hong Kong authorities wielding the contentious NSL. 

On Nov. 11, Ma Chun-man, also known as “Captain America 2.0” was sentenced by a Hong Kong court to five years and nine months in prison for “inciting secession” by peacefully delivering multiple pro-independence speeches and posting similar content online.

READ MORE: Hong Kong Man Sentenced to Nearly 6 Years in Prison for Chanting Slogans, Posting Online

On the morning of Wednesday Sept. 8, four leaders of the pro-democracy group, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements (The Alliance), known for organizing the city’s annual 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre vigil, were arrested by authorities who allege the group was working as a “foreign agent.”

HONG KONG, CHINA – SEPT. 05: Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China vice-chairwoman Chow Hang-tung speaks during a press conference on September 5, 2021 in Hong Kong, China. The alliance behind Hong Kong’s annual 04 June Tiananmen Square vigil announced that it will not comply with a national security police request to give over details of its membership and funding sources. (Image: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

The four arrested include the vice chairwoman and barrister Chow Hang-tung and standing committee members Leung Kam-wai, Tang Ngok-kwan and Chan Dor-wai.

The Alliance voted to disband at a special meeting on Saturday Sept. 25 after 32 years in operation, following months of sustained pressure by Chinese authorities and the arrest of the group’s leadership.

Numerous organizations have ceased operations in Hong Kong due to fears the NSL will be used against them.

On Oct. 25 global human rights movement Amnesty International announced they would be closing down its Hong Kong office by the end of 2021 saying they are being forced to leave the city after 40 years of operation due to fears they may run afoul of the NSL.

On Oct. 7 the student union of the Chinese University of Hong Kong voted to dissolve after 50-years in operation citing increased pressure by authorities and concerns for its members safety.