Landmark national security trial of Hong Kong democracy activists begins. Here’s what you need to know

Hong Kong

Some were seasoned politicians and seasoned protest leaders. Others were academics, unionists and health care workers. They belonged to different races and had different political views, but they were united by their words. There was a shared commitment to Hong Kong’s democratic future.

Now, the “Hong Kong 47,” as the group of pro-democracy activists in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory is known, will begin appearing in court on Monday on charges that could carry them to life in prison. .

Sixteen of the defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them and are expected to take the stand early.

Their alleged crime? holding and participating in an unofficial primary election in what prosecutors described as a “large-scale and organized scheme to overthrow the Hong Kong government”.

It is the biggest trial of the national security law in Hong Kong since Beijing imposed it. gave Large-scale legislation hit the city in 2019 following massive anti-government protests.

The landmark trial – which includes the first sedition charges – is expected to last weeks, but critics of the city say its implications could last for years or decades as the city rapidly erodes its political freedoms and autonomy. is losing

John Burns, emeritus professor at the University of Hong Kong, said the democrats’ trial was a “will test” of Beijing’s ability to completely crush organized opposition in Hong Kong.

Burns said the purpose of arresting and charging Democrats is to intimidate and eliminate the opposition, either by deporting them from Hong Kong or sending them to prison.

“It’s a process of removing them. By shutting down political parties, shutting down trade unions, they’re shutting down the support base of organized opposition,” Burns said.

The Hong Kong government has repeatedly denied such allegations. Instead, he insists that the law has ended the chaos and restored stability to the city.

Hong Kong prides itself on the rule of law. Law enforcement agencies are obliged to take action against illegal activities regardless of the political background of the suspects. The government, in a statement responding to the criticism, said the arrests were evidence-based and strictly in accordance with relevant laws and regulations.

Here’s what you need to know about the case:

47 pro-democracy figures have been charged with “conspiring to subvert” under the National Security Law for their alleged role in the unofficial primary elections in July 2020.

The vote was held ahead of legislative elections to determine which contenders would be best placed to bid against pro-Beijing candidates.

Such contests are held in democracies around the world, and involve political parties choosing the strongest candidates for election. Hong Kong’s democrats have previously held such votes in an effort to conform to the organization and discipline of the pro-Beijing camp and avoid dividing the opposition.

However, officials said the primary vote was a “sinister plot” aimed at “paralyzing the government and weakening state power” by winning a majority of seats and using mandates to block legislation.

The government’s Electoral Affairs Commission also responded that “so-called” primaries “are not part of the electoral process of Legislative Council elections or other public elections.”

In January 2021, 47 democrats were arrested en masse in a Dawn raid. Since then, many people have been detained or imprisoned for other crimes related to the protests. Fifteen have been granted bail under certain conditions.

It is extremely rare for defendants not to be granted bail under the common law system in Hong Kong. However, the National Security Act states that defendants cannot be granted bail unless the court is satisfied that they “will not continue to commit acts that threaten national security.”

A Department of Justice spokesman said bail applications in cases involving crimes that “endanger national security” are “considered fairly and impartially by the court, taking into account the admissible evidence, the applicable laws and the merits of the case.” The decision has been made.”

In a departure from common law tradition, trials will be tried without a jury.

The defendants include a wide variety of political activists who describe themselves as moderate democrats to radical localists, a movement that advocates Hong Kong’s independence from mainland China.

Among the 16 who have pleaded not guilty is Gwyneth Howe, a 32-year-old former journalist with the now-defunct Stand News, which was closed after a police raid in 2021 and two editors charged with sedition.

Ho live-streamed the moment assailants indiscriminately beat people with sticks and metal bars at a train station in July 2019 – many of them returning from a pro-democracy march. Lack of police presence. He himself was injured in this attack. He later quit journalism to contest the 2020 Legislative Council elections.

Gwyneth Ho is seen working in her office in Hong Kong on August 4, 2020.

Leung Kok Hung, 66, known as “Long Hair” for his signature locks, is a former lawmaker and retired civil servant. He has been on the front lines of city politics for two decades and is an outspoken critic of China. He is known for political demonstrations – both on the streets and inside the city’s legislative chamber. In 2017 he was. Disqualified from the legislature for refusing to take the oath of allegiance to China.

Activist Leung Kok Hung holds a placard that reads:

Lam Cheuk Ting, 45, was regularly involved in street protests that sometimes turned into clashes with police, and was often seen talking to officers and asking them to stop using tear gas. was

He was sentenced to four months in prison in January 2020 for disclosing personal information of individuals in the police investigation into the Yuen Long mob attack.

Former pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk Ting stands outside the Eastern Magistrates' Court on December 28, 2020.

On the other hand, several leading activists have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. They are either in pre-trial detention or serving prison terms for other protest-related crimes.

Among them is 26-year-old well-known activist Joshua Wong. China’s state media labeled an “extremist,” and Benny Tai, 54, a former law professor and co-founder of the 2014 Occupy Central movement. Claudia Mo, 66, a former journalist turned lawmaker who has previously been an outspoken critic of Beijing’s tight grip on Hong Kong, has also pleaded guilty.

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