Fear descends over Hong Kong as first person to be charged under new law appears in court

Things have changed quickly in Hong Kong. From Monday, even nursery children were being taught about the new National Security Law (NSL) as part of a government directive to all schools in the city.

It is not even a week old and its effects are reaching all levels of society.

On Monday morning, the first person to be charged under the NSL appeared in court.

Tong Ying-kit is accused of inciting separatism and terrorism and could be handed anything from three years to life in prison.

Tong Ying-kit arrives at a court in a police van in Hong Kong Monday, July 6, 2020. Credit: AP

In accordance with the new law, bail was denied and he has been remanded in custody until his next hearing in October.

The 23-year-old was arrested after his motorbike crashed in to a group of police officers on 1 July, the day the new law was introduced. He was carrying a flag with the message "Liberate Hong Kong".

That, and any sentiment or action calling for democracy or independence has been outlawed.

Words have become dangerous in the city. The few who are still daring to protest do so with blank posters. Their demonstrations are defiant but increasingly short lived. The police are out in numbers to shut down any protest attempt. Eight people were arrested in a shopping mall for singing and holding up empty signs.

An employee removes stickers and posters with messages in support of the pro-democracy movement at a restaurant in Hong Kong. Credit: AP

Also in court on Monday was Joshua Wong. He pleaded not guilty to inciting others to participate in an unlawful assembly during last year's anti-government protests.

He urged the international community to stand with Hong Kong and for the pro-democracy movement not to lose momentum.

He has vowed to stay in the city despite the personal threat he is facing. Chinese State media has referred to him as a secessionist. At the weekend, two of his books were removed from libraries in Hong Kong, among several deemed in breach of the NSL.

A protester carrying an American flag outside the US consulate in Hong Kong Credit: AP

For the first time we are finding people unwilling to speak to us on camera in Hong Kong. Many of those applying for a British National Overseas (BNO) Passport are too fearful of reprisals and too scared of risking their application to talk.

The UK Government has promised BNO holders it will change the rules to offer them a path to citizenship.

One man we spoke to with the guarantee of anonymity had just filled out his form. He said Hong Kong was facing total disaster; the National Security Law was a nightmare.

A protester detained by police at a march on 1 July marking the anniversary of the Hong Kong handover from Britain to China. Credit: AP

Last week, he spoke to his elderly parents and they agreed it was best for him to try to get out. He says he no longer feels comfortable living somewhere on which China is tightening its grip.

The Chinese Ambassador to the UK used a video conference in London to reiterate a threat from Beijing that there would be consequences if the British Government goes ahead with a BNO rule change.

Chinese Ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming at an event to mark Chinese new year. Credit: PA

The country hasn’t stipulated what those consequences would be, but it is thought prominent businesses, or even individuals, could face sanctions. Ambassador Liu Xiaoming said any attempt to thwart the NSL was ‘’doomed to failure’’.

On the streets of Hong Kong, protest posters have been scraped from the walls, freedoms are being eroded and opinions have been prohibited.