Hong Kong pro-democracy activist faces trial in landmark national security case

47 of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy activists face life in prison as Hong Kong’s largest national security law trial begins on Monday.

The defendants, including some of Hong Kong’s most high-profile politicians and activists, Arrested January 2021 The largest police raid under the National Security Act. He spent more than two years in pretrial detention after most of the defendants were denied bail.

Critics describe it as a politically motivated crusade to clean up arrests Hong KongThis is part of China’s broader crackdown on territorial freedoms and civil society following anti-government protests in 2019.

Following the protests, Beijing directly imposed a national security law on Hong Kong in 2020, criminalizing broader crimes such as terrorism, secession, subversion, and collusion with foreign powers. The move received widespread repercussions throughout civil society, the legal community, and the educational system, wiping out dissenting voices.

The trial also comes as the Hong Kong government launches an initiative to bring back international business after three years of pandemic restrictions and protests that have revived its ailing economy and damaged its international reputation.

The 47 defendants include Activist Joshua WongAFP journalist-turned-parliamentarian Claudia Mo, social activist and social democratic coalition co-founder “Long-Haired” Leon Kwok Hung, and former BBC Chinese journalist Gwyneth Ho.

They were charged with conspiring to overthrow state power under a broader security law by organizing or participating in the July 2020 unofficial primaries of the opposition. Over 600,000 people took part in the vote. To “paralyze” the Hong Kong government by gaining control of the legislature. completely occupied by the pro-Beijing party.

Sixteen defendants, including Leung and Ho, pleaded not guilty at a hearing on Monday. “I have not committed a crime,” Leon said in court. Thirty-one other people have pleaded guilty in Monday or earlier proceedings, four of whom have agreed to provide evidence in the indictment, according to government attorneys.

Three members of Leung’s LSD, one of the last remaining opposition factions, were disbanded by police after calling for the release of the defendants outside court on Monday.

Thomas Kellogg, executive director of the Asian Law Center at Georgetown University, said the trial had “all the hallmarks of being a politically motivated indictment against the city’s mainstream political opposition.” .

“This case is important for what we are saying about human rights in Hong Kong,” he said. “The fact that dozens of top opposition politicians could soon be sent to prison … speaks all too clearly of the damage done to Hong Kong’s once vibrant civic life.”

The incident increased tensions between China and Western countries. The US, UK and EU have previously condemned the indictment, and diplomats from the Hong Kong consulate attended the pre-trial hearing. They were also present on Monday.

Hong Kong is expected to file another high-profile national security lawsuit against media mogul and Beijing critic Jimmy Lai this September. Lai, 75, faces charges of collusion with foreign countries because of his role as its founder. Discontinued democratic newspaper Apple Daily.

He has been in prison since December 2020 and was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison in December 2022 for fraud charges related to his media company, and was also sentenced to 20 years for an illegal assembly over a protest. A month’s imprisonment was handed down.

Analysts warn that the security law trial will put pressure on Hong Kong’s customary legal system, one of the last foundations that separates the territory from mainland China, where the ruling Communist Party influences the courts.

China’s top legislative body said last month that Hong Kong leader John Lee could block defendants in national security cases from hiring foreign lawyers.Lee wanted Beijing to intervene stop Rye from hiring a British barrister After the government abstained from appealing to the city’s Supreme Court.

More than 200 people, including family and friends of the activists, lined up to attend Monday’s trial.

“My conscience pushed me to come and support them… I have to stay true to myself,” said 72-year-old Jerome Lau outside the courtroom. I was.

Additional report by Primrose Riordan from Hong Kong

https://www.ft.com/content/10830d35-8152-499f-8ea5-ea8594e7bfd7 Hong Kong pro-democracy activist faces trial in landmark national security case

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