A Hong Kong teenager accused of insulting China’s national flag is to set to receive the verdict in his case Friday, facing years in prison, part of mounting crackdown on dissent.
The pro-Beijing authorities in the finance hub have increasingly targeted prominent members of Hong Kong’s democracy movement, including young leaders such as Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, who were jailed last week.
Tony Chung, a 19-year-old pro-democracy activist, faces multiple charges that leave him facing several trials and a potential stint in prison.
He was arrested by plainclothes police opposite the US consulate in late October and has been remanded in custody since.
Speculation has swirled that police moved on Chung because he was hoping to ask for asylum at the US consulate in Hong Kong.
He will appear in court on Friday accused of throwing a Chinese flag to the ground in May last year, as well as unlawful assembly, offences that carry a maximum of three and five years respectively.
Chung is also the first person to be prosecuted under the sweeping new national security law imposed in June by Beijing on Hong Kong to quell anti-government protests.
He faces a charge of secession under the new law, which could land him a life sentence, as well as separate charges of money laundering and conspiring to publish seditious content.
If convicted on Friday, the former leader of pro-independence group Student Localism could be jailed while awaiting trial for the more severe national security charge.
The alleged flag offence took place outside the Hong Kong legislature in May last year during scuffles between rival supporters as pro-democracy lawmakers inside tried to prevent the passing of a now-abandoned extradition bill.
In footage shared at his trial, Chung is seen holding a Chinese flag seized from a Beijing supporter, which he then throws over his shoulder.
Prosecutors have accused him of an intentional insult, calling his squat, jump and throw of the flag “performative”.
Chung denies the charge, arguing that he did not realise it was a Chinese flag.
Chung was to seek asylum at the diplomatic mission, according to a previously little-known UK-based group called Friends of Hong Kong.
A small but growing number of Hong Kong activists have fled the city since Beijing’s crackdown began.
Chung and three other members of Student Localism were first arrested in July on suspicion of inciting secession on social media.
His bail conditions from that arrest prevented him from leaving Hong Kong.
Chung’s next court hearing on the national security charge is on January 7.