05/31/2021, 16.11
HONG KONG – CHINA
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Forty-seven activists on trial for holding election primaries at risk of life in prison

Prosecutors are asking for their case to be referred to the High Court. Only 11 defendants have been granted bail. Jimmy Lai, Benny Tai and Joshua Wong are among the accused. Defence lawyers are racing against time. A trial without jury is likely.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – The trial of 47 activists arrested on 28 February for organising or taking part in election primaries in the summer 2020 opened today at West Kowloon Magistrates' Court. They face life imprisonment.

Chief Magistrate Victor Soe set the formal hearing for 8 July to decide whether to grant the prosecutors’ request and refer the case to the High Court, which has jurisdiction over the most serious offences.

In July 2020, the pro-democracy camp held primary elections to choose its candidates for the upcoming September legislative elections (which were eventually postponed).

The 47 defendants are behind bars on charges of subversion under Beijing’s national security law.

According to the indictment, the accused plotted to ensure that pro-democracy candidates would win 35 or more seats in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) so as to overthrow the government of Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

In March, 11 defendants were granted bail. Among those still in jail are prominent figures like Jimmy Lai, Benny Tai and Joshua Wong.

Defence attorneys have challenged Judge Soe's decision. They note that prosecutors have not informed them about the elements of the alleged offences cited in the application to the refer the case to a higher court. They also said that they may not have sufficient time to advise their clients.

The defendants are not even sure whether they will be tried under Hong Kong’s traditional legal rules.

On 20 May, the High Court decided that in cases of threat to national security, defendants can be tried without a jury. The ruling concerned Tong Ying-kit, 24, the first Hong Konger arrested under the new national security law.

Juries have been used for the most serious crimes under Hong Kong's Common Law system since 1845. On the website of the local judiciary, the jury system is described as one of its “most important features”.

For the pro-democracy forces and outside observers, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing authorities are using the national security law to stifle dissent and align the city with mainland China’s communist regime.

This is also the case with Hong Kong’s electoral reform, which was modified last Thursday by the LegCo in order to limit the electoral chances of pro-democracy candidates.

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