Hong Kong’s first trial under its critical national security law started on June 23, which is a trial in the absence of a jury. A person named Tong Ying-kit is charged with dangerous driving, inciting secession, and terrorism faces life in jail but has pleaded not guilty. He is also accused of flying a liberation flag of Hong Kong and driving a motorbike to several police officials. Beijing says that the national security law criminalizes the trouble maker, but critics consider that it silences the dissent.
The national security law came into force after an array of mass pro-democracy protests happened in 2019. The law was widely criticized internationally. As per the law, it criminalizes everyone involved in terrorism, subversion, secession, and collusion with foreign forces. Even a popular slogan during the protests became illegal. Mr. Tong was arrested in 2020 for riding his motorbike on police officials and for holding a flag that read to liberate Hong Kong. Violations of the law can give maximum life imprisonment, and Mr. Tong also has separate charges for reckless driving.
Reasons for the Trial without Jury
The trial without the presence of a jury is a notable moment in the fast-changing legal traditions of Hong Kong. The legal team of the defendant pushed the case to be heard in front of a jury, arguing that it was the right of Mr. Tong and he can potentially face life imprisonment if found guilty. But the Justice Secretary argued that the jury trial could put the safety of jurors at risk due to the tense political situation.
Controversy over the Law
Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed back to China under the one country two systems rule in 1997. This helped in giving certain additional freedoms to the territory, including the freedom of speech and assembly. It provided an independent judiciary and certain democratic rights which the people in mainland China do not have. All these freedoms are enshrined in the mini-constitution of Hong Kong named the Basic Law, which will last only until 2047.
But Beijing passed a national security law in June 2020. In response to this, the legal experts and the lawyers said that it could change the overall legal system of the territory. Under the law, trials can be held in secret and without the need of a jury. Judges can be selected by the chief executive of Hong Kong, who is directly answerable to Beijing.