Tony Chung, a 20-year-old former leader of Hong Kong pro-independence youth group Student Localism, was sentenced Tuesday to 43 months in jail on charges of secession and money laundering.
"He actively organized, planned and implemented activities to separate the country," Stanley Chan, the district court judge, said.
Chung had accepted a plea bargain, admitting guilt to one charge of secession and one count of money laundering tied to donations he had received for his pro-democracy and pro-independence activism through the payment processing site PayPal.
In exchange for the plea, prosecutors agreed to drop charges of sedition and another count of money laundering, thus reducing his sentence by a quarter.
When Chung pleaded guilty earlier this month, he said he had "nothing to be ashamed of."
Who is Tony Chung?
At the time of his arrest in October 2020, local media reported plainclothes policemen took him and two others away as they sat at a coffee shop near the US consulate, as Chung prepared an asylum application.
He is now the youngest person to be convicted under Hong Kong's national security law that was introduced following pro-democracy protests in the city in 2019.
What is Hong Kong's national security law?
Under the law, which came into effect in July 2020, authorities have clamped down on dissent in the city, effectively putting an end to Hong Kong's exceptional status under the "one country, two systems" principle that was agreed when it became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China in 1997.
Last month, Amnesty International said it planed to close its offices in Hong Kong by the end of this year because of the danger posed to its staff by the national security law.
Amnesty said the law meant it was "impossible for human rights organizations to work freely and without fear of serious reprisals from the government."
The legislation was introduced in June 2020 and broadly outlawed acts deemed by Beijing to be crimes of foreign collusion, terrorism, secessionism and subversion. More than 150 people have been arrested since the national security law came in, with around half of those subsequently charged.
Bail is often denied in cases and guilty pleas are how defendants can reduce their sentences, as well as mounting legal costs.
Authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing say the law is necessary to restore stability following pro-democracy protests.
Curtain closed on free Hong Kong
As the law came into effect, civil society organizations disbanded rather than see members face possible life in prison.
Hong Kong is a former British colony. In 1997, it was returned to Chinese rule but with guarantees that rights and rule of law in the city would be respected.
Pro-democracy activists and Western nations say China has violated those terms, something Beijing denies.
ar/jsi (AFP, Reuters)