The former leader of a pro-independence group in Hong Kong has been denied bail after he became the second person to be charged with secession under the national security law.
Tony Chung Hon-lam, who was arrested at a Pacific Coffee outlet opposite the US consulate on Tuesday morning, also faced allegations of laundering close to HK$700,000 and publishing seditious articles when he appeared at West Kowloon Court on Thursday.
The prosecution filing accused the 19-year-old former convenor of the now-defunct Studentlocalism group of seeking to separate Hong Kong from mainland China, or to alter the city’s legal status unlawfully.
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Just hours after his arrest on Tuesday, four local activists entered the US consulate in a dramatic bid for asylum, which was later rejected.
On Thursday, prosecutors also accused Chung of conspiring to publish seditious articles between November 30, 2018 and June 9 this year – before the national security law took effect on June 30 – by invoking a colonial-era law for the second time since the city’s handover in 1997.
The sedition allegation, which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a HK$5,000 fine for a first offence, said Chung conspired with others to “excite inhabitants of Hong Kong to attempt to procure the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any other matter in Hong Kong as by law established”.
Prosecutors previously laid similar charges against activist Tam Tak-chi, accusing him of chanting anti-police slogans and common protest phrases such as, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” and “Five demands, not one less” on at least seven occasions.
The acts of secession and sedition of which Chung is accused were not detailed in court on Thursday.
Two other money-laundering charges, punishable by 14 years in prison and a HK$5 million fine, accuse Chung of handling HK$697,735.88 through a PayPal account, and bank account, between January 19, 2018, and July 29, 2020.
Anthony Chau Tin-hang, senior assistant director of public prosecutions, asked that no plea be taken on the four charges, as police needed extra time to examine Chung’s mobile phone and computer, bank statements and messages he was said to have posted online.
Officers would also need time to further investigate three to four other accomplices, he added.
Chung’s bail application was turned down by Chief Magistrate Victor So Wai-tak, one of six magistrates hand-picked by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to adjudicate national security proceedings.
The magistrate said the decision was made in accordance with the requirement for granting bail under Article 42 of the new law – which states that the court should bar the temporary release of defendants unless it is convinced the accused will not continue to endanger national security – as well as the Criminal Procedure Ordinance.
Chung’s case will be heard again at the same court on January 7.
The national security law prohibits acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. Sentences under the legislation run up to life imprisonment, with a minimum of 10 years applied in severe cases.
The first charges under the law came just three days after its commencement, with 23-year-old Tong Ying-kit accused of inciting secession and engaging in terrorism.
Prosecutors alleged he drove his motorcycle into a group of police officers at a July 1 demonstration, while carrying a flag calling for the city’s liberation.
Tong will remain in custody until his trial at the High Court, where sentencing is not subject to any restrictions.
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