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

Hong Kong

Some are seasoned politicians and veteran protest leaders. Others are academics, unionists, and healthcare workers. They come from different generations and have different political views, but have brought them together by what they say. is a shared commitment to Hong Kong’s democratic future.

Now, “Hong Kong 47,” as the group of pro-democracy activists in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory has become known, will begin appearing in court Monday to face allegations could put them in jail for life.

Sixteen of the defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them and are expected to be the first to make a stand.

Their alleged crimes? Organize and join a unofficial primaries what prosecutors have called a “large-scale and well-organized scheme to overthrow the Hong Kong government.”

This is Hong Kong’s largest national security law trial since Beijing imposed it the to scan law on the post-popular city anti-government protests in 2019. The law criminalizing acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces is vaguely defined, all of which carry a penalty of life imprisonment. .

The landmark trial – the first involving subversion charges – is expected to go on for weeks, but its ramifications could last years or even decades in one city. which critics say is rapidly losing political freedoms and autonomy.

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

Burns said the arrest of democrats and charges against them was aimed at intimidating and eliminating the opposition, either by driving them out of Hong Kong into exile or by imprisoning them.

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

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

“Hong Kong prides itself on the rule of law; Law enforcement agencies are obligated to act against unlawful acts, regardless of the political background of the suspects. The arrests were made based on evidence and in strict compliance with relevant laws and regulations,” the government said in a statement responding to the criticism.

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

47 pro-democracy figures have been charged with “subversion conspiracy” under national security laws for their alleged role in the July 2020 unofficial primary election.

Voting is held before a legislative election to find out which candidate would be best suited to bid against pro-Beijing candidates.

Such contests are held in democracies around the world and involve political parties that select the brightest candidates for an election. Hong Kong’s democrats had previously held such votes to try to match the organization and discipline of rival pro-Beijing factions and avoid splitting the opposition.

However, the authorities speak The primaries were an “evil plot” to “paralyze the government and weaken the state’s power” by winning a majority of seats and using the powers to block legislation.

The government’s election commission also answered that the “so-called “primary elections” are not part of the electoral procedure of the Legislative Council Elections or other public elections.”

People queue to vote during the unofficial primary election held by pro-democracy opposition parties on July 11, 2020.

In January 2021, 47 democrats were mass arrests in a dawn raid. Since then, many have been detained or jailed for other protest-related crimes. Fifteen has been granted guarantee under specific conditions.

It is extremely rare for defendants to be released on bail in Hong Kong under the common law system. However, the national security law states that defendants cannot be released unless the court believes they will “not continue to commit acts that endanger national security”.

A Justice Department spokesman told CNN that bail applications in cases involving offenses “endangering national security” were “fairly handled by the court and adjudicated.” fair trial based on admissible evidence, applicable law, and merits of the case.”

Cases will be tried without a jury, unlike the common law tradition.

The defendants include a variety of political activists, who describe themselves as ranging from moderate democrats to radical localists, a movement advocating for Hong Kong independence. from mainland China.

Among the 16 who pleaded not guilty was former Stand News journalist Gwyneth Ho, 32, now defunct, which was closed following a police raid in 2021 and two editors arrested. . accused of sedition.

Ho live-streamed the moment the assailants indiscriminately beat people – many of them returning from a pro-democracy march – with sticks and metal rods at the a train station in July 2019. Ho’s footage of the incident caused an international stir, sparking an investigation into the lack of a police presence. Ho was wounded in the attack. She then left journalism to run in the 2020 Legislative Council elections.

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

Leung Kwok-hung, 66, nicknamed “Long Hair” for his signature curls, is a retired former legislator and civil servant. He has been on the front lines of city politics for more than two decades and is an outspoken critic of China. He is known for his political rallies – both on the streets and inside the city’s legislative chamber. In 2017 you are eliminated from the legislature for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to China.

Activist Leung Kwok-hung holds a placard that says

Lam Cheuk-ting, 45, regularly participates in street protests, which sometimes escalate into clashes with police, and is often seen negotiating with officers and demanding that they Stop using tear gas.

He was sentenced to four months in prison in January 2020 for disclosing individuals’ personal information during a police investigation into Yuen Long’s mob attack.

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

On the other hand, several prominent activists have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. They have either been detained before trial or are serving time in prison for other protest-related crimes.

These include famous activists Joshua Wong26, label one “extremist” of China’s state media, and Benny Tai, 54, a former law professor and co-founder of the 2014 Occupy Central movement. Claudia Mo, 66, former journalist turned legislator Once an outspoken critic of Beijing’s tightening control over Hong Kong, has also pleaded guilty.


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