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Mr. Tong’s lawyers, as well as many protesters, are expected to argue that the phrase represents a desire to recapture Hong Kong’s unique identity from Beijing’s gross influence. The government has said the slogan is a call for independence and is in breach of security law.
That a political slogan could be a criminal offense is still a new and disturbing notion in Hong Kong, where residents have enjoyed the right to protest for decades, freedoms largely unknown in mainland China.
“We have to keep an eye on the context. From the words he had, we need to understand that these words were spoken quite often during that time and displayed on many flags and banners during peaceful and even non-peaceful protests in Hong Kong, ”said Eric Cheung, law professor at the university of Hong Kong.
“The meaning of these words varies from person to person,” said Mr. Cheung. “You are now saying that the use of those words only has the meaning that boils down to intent to undermine the country, I think this is a debate.”
Even if Mr. Tong is not found guilty of terrorism, he will be charged with aggravated driving behavior with a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.
While waiting for his trial, Mr. Tong shared a cell with 10 men, according to Shiu Ka-chun, a former lawmaker who wrote on his social media page last year that he visited him regularly. Mr. Shiu refused to comment on Mr. Tong. But on his social media posts, he wrote that Mr. Tong had read books on history, including a memoir by Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan’s first democratically elected president.
“For those comrades who continue to take a stand, he says, wait and be patient,” wrote Mr. Shiu. “For those who have left Hong Kong, he sees it calmly and thinks, ‘Hong Kong is in your hearts, Hong Kong is everywhere.'”