Hong Kong 47: Court convicts 14 democracy activists of subversion

Hong Kong 47: Court convicts 14 democracy activists of subversion

Kelly Ng & Lok Lee,in Singapore and Hong Kong

Getty Images Former opposition lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung (centre) with members of the League of Social Democrats at a protest on China's national day in 2017Getty Images

In the most extensive use of a Chinese-imposed National Security Law to date, Hong Kong has found 14 pro-democracy protesters innocent of subversion.

Leung Kwok-hung and Helena Wong, past lawmakers and journalist-turned-campaigner Gwyneth Ho, as well as ordinary Hong Kongers who participated in the 2019 mass protests, including nurse Winnie Yu.

They were among the 47 activists charged with trying to “overthrow” the government by organising an unofficial primary in 2020 to pick candidates who can run for office.

They would have” ]created ] a constitutional crisis for Hong Kong” if they had indeed been elected to the legislature, the court ruled on Thursday, agreeing with the prosecution’s argument.

The plaintiffs ‘ houses and on their equipment when they were detained more than three years ago were referenced by the court as information, along with words and battle supplies.

Former district council Lawrence Lau and Lee Yue-Shen, both of whom the court acquitted, said it was” cannot be certain” that they were “parties to the system” or that they “had the intent to undermine the country’s power.” However, the justice ministry stated that it would file an appeal.

The 47 make up some of the most popular names in the pro- politics movement, going up to 2014, when thousands protested for free and fair elections.

“They encapsulate the diverse and universal yearning for democracy and freedom among Hong Kong’s citizens,” Simon Cheng, who was accused of violating the NSL, told the BBC. He fled Hong Kong and has since been granted asylum in the UK.

The case has drawn huge attention as yet another test for Hong Kong’s civil liberties under Beijing’s rule. Along with the trial of billionaire Jimmy Lai, it has spotlighted the growing criticism that the National Security Law (NSL) has been used to crush dissent. But China says the law restored stability to the city in the wake of the 2019 protests and is essential to maintaining order.

Reuters A demonstrator throws back a tear gas canister as they clash with riot police during a protest in Hong Kong in 2019Reuters

Hong Kong’s officials hail the law’s nearly 100% conviction rate but legal experts say that shows how it is being used to silence dissent – nearly 300 people have been arrested under it for a wide range of acts.

Sentence is anticipated at a later time, including for the remaining 31 who entered criminal. A conviction under the NSL may result in a decreased sentence, but it’s unclear whether a conviction would justify a reduced sentence.

Many of the guilty pleas were “likely taken as a pragmatic decision, ]as the activists ] recognise that their chances of a fair trial are slim”, Mr Cheng said.

It’s a horrible example of how activists are being forced to make concessions in order to lessen the severity of their abuse, he said.

‘ What murder has he committed?’

” Both of us like independence, flexibility and freedom. What kind of violence has he committed”? According to Vanessa Chan, one of those who was found guilty on Thursday was Leung Kwok-hung, whose father was also found innocent.

Ms. Chan, an activist herself, and a number of people had planned to protest, but the officers stopped them outside the heavily-guarded court.

Speaking to BBC Chinese ahead of the verdict, she said:” I feel sad for him… I know he feels miserable, just like I do”.

Mr Leung, much known as Long Hair for his trademark hair, was for centuries Hong Kong’s most tenacious rebel. He was previously imprisoned for anti-government protests, but this one is unique, according to Ms. Chan, who makes only 15 visits to him each day.

” ]Back in the 2010s], the social atmosphere was entirely different … The pro- democracy movements was advancing. Being imprisoned was merely a minor setback; people believed there was a bit they could perform once they were released from prison.

Getty Images Leung Kwok-hung, better known as Long Hair,Getty Images

Now, she says, even when he is finally out of prison, he may “only become released from a small jail to a large prison”.

The pair, who are both in their 60s, got married just a few times before he was detained in first 2021. He has been incarcerated since next.

Social employee Hendrick Lui’s need to” contribute to society” landed him in prison, said Elsa Wu, his foster family.

Mr. Lui is one of the 31 people who entered a guilty plea, and he was one of those who contested in the case’s illegal principal.

” He saw a lot of social problems, so he thought,’ Why do n’t I run in the election,'” she says, adding that she had hoped he would have an easier life after a difficult childhood.

” It would have been better if he had just kept doing it as a sociable contractor.”

Reuters People queue up outside the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts building, before the verdict of the 47 pro-democracy activistsReuters

‘ A test of Hong Kong’s master- politics movement ‘

Despite receiving admonition that it might offend the NSL, the unofficial major the case centres on was held in July 2020. However, more than 600,000 Hong Kongers cast ballots to elect criticism candidates for the Legislative Council or LegCo, the country’s mini-parlament.

However, the elections were postponed, and pro-Beijing individuals seized control of the country when they were suddenly held in December 2021 following contentious changes. Just 30 % of the town voted. Many of the most popular opposition lawmakers were now facing charges under NSL, and the new laws made it possible for Beijing to monitor candidates for office.

Authorities defended trial of the 47 protesters, saying they had a “vicious story” to destroy the state.

But the prosecution was questionable. In what was perceived as a diversion from the state’s common law practices, the NSL allows it to be decided by three judges chosen by the Hong Kong government rather than a judge.

Even though the trial did n’t begin until early 2023, the majority of the defendants have been in jail since their arrest in January 2021. They were denied bail, and pre-trial punishments quickly surpassed that in NSL circumstances.

defendants were denied the option to change or even take a bath during the initial loan hearing, which lasted four days. Ten of them eventually went into a coma, and several were taken to the hospital.

This was” a test of Hong Kong’s expert- politics motion”, Eric Lai, a research fellow at the Georgetown Center for Asian Law, told the BBC.

” These verdicts effectively wipe out the entire political opposition in Hong Kong,” said Sunny Cheung, who also ran for president in the city’s primary in July 2020 but eluded the city.

Now in exile in the US, he said he misses his fellow activists:” I have been dreaming about my peers who fought]for ] democracy together- the survivor guilt is immense”.

Additional reporting by Frances Mao in Singapore