Forty-seven HK pro-democracy activists tried under national security law over primaries
The defendants are accused of trying to overthrow Hong Kong’s government. The trial of the 16 who pleaded not guilty is expected to last three months. All face life imprisonment. The defendants include prominent figures like Benny Tai and Joshua Wong. The trial of Catholic tycoon Jimmy Lai will be held in September.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – The trial of 47 activists arrested in February 2021 for organising or taking part months earlier in primaries for the pro-democracy camp opened today before three High Court judges.
In July 2020, the pro-democracy camp held primaries to choose its candidates for the September legislative elections (which were postponed).
The 47 defendants are on trial on charges of subversion under mainland China’s national security law. According to the indictment, they "plotted" to win 35 or more seats in the elections to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) and overthrow the government of Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
The trial will be conducted without a jury. The latter has been used for more than 150 under Hong Kong’s common law legal system, a legacy of British rule, but under China’s national security law, this type of cases will be tried by hand-picked national security judges.
The 16 defendants who pleaded not guilty will be tried over the next 90 days. They include former LegCo Member “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung who told the court that there is “no crime to admit.”
After the trial, the group of defendants who pleaded guilty, which includes former Stand News reporter Gwyneth Ho, jurist Benny Tai, and prominent activist Joshua Wong, will be sentenced. Four activists will testify for the prosecution.
All defendants face life imprisonment. Only 13 of them were granted bail, and many spent nearly two years in prison.
About 200 people lined up in front of the courthouse to secure one of the 39 seats available to the public. Another 367 were able to watch a live broadcast in court extensions. Western diplomats were also present as observers.
Police blocked a sit-in in front of the courthouse by the League of Social Democrats.
A member of the pro-democracy formation, Dickson Chau, was arrested for removing his COVID mask. The Hong Kong Free Press reports that Chau was fined for violating health regulations and then released.
The other major national security trial concerns Jimmy Lai, the 74-year-old pro-democracy Catholic tycoon jailed in December 2020 for participating in unauthorised protests.
He is currently on trial on four additional charges, including conspiracy to publish, sell, distribute and reproduce “seditious” material as well as collusion with foreign powers and “external elements”.
His trial was adjourned until September after Hong Kong authorities tried to ban Lai's foreign lawyer.