A man carrying a “Liberate Hong Kong” sign as he drove a motorcycle into police at a protest against the territory’s Chinese rulers became on Friday the first person charged with inciting separatism and terrorism under a new security law.
Beijing imposed the legislation on the former British colony earlier this week despite protests from Hong Kongers and Western nations, setting China’s freest city and a major financial hub on a more authoritarian track.
Critics say the law - which punishes crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison - is aimed at crushing dissent and a long-running campaign for greater democracy.
Police say 23-year-old Tong Ying-kit rammed and injured some officers at an illegal protest on Wednesday. A video online showed a motorbike knocking over several officers on a narrow street before the driver falls over and is arrested.
Tong, who was hospitalised after the incident, was charged less than 24 hours after the city government said the slogan he was carrying - “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” - connotes separatism or subversion under the new law.
The rallying cry appears on placards, T-shirts, and post-it notes stuck to walls around Hong Kong.
China’s parliament adopted the security law after sometimes violent protests last year triggered by fears Beijing was stifling freedoms, guaranteed by a “one country, two systems” formula agreed when Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong say the law aims at a few “troublemakers” and not wider rights that underpin the city’s role as a gateway for capital flows in and out of China.
But international anxiety is growing after authorities arrested 10 people under the new law within 24 hours of it taking effect. The European Union (EU) has put Hong Kong high on its agenda while the United Nations’ rights office expressed alarm over arrests.