Home News Hong Kong High Court finds 14 democracy activists guilty of subversion

Hong Kong High Court finds 14 democracy activists guilty of subversion

Hong Kong’s High Court found 14 of the city’s leading democracy activists guilty of subversion on Thursday under a tough national security law imposed on the city by China four years ago.

They were among 16 defendants on trial. Two of them, former district councilors Lee Yue-shun and Lawrence Lau, were acquitted while the 14 were remanded in custody, media reported.

The remaining 31 defendants in the so-called 47 trial, after the number of activists who were arrested in 2021, had already pleaded guilty to the charge of “conspiracy to commit subversion,” which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

The trial is the biggest-ever prosecution of pro-democracy activists in the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula meant to preserve the freedoms that have ensured its status as an international financial hub.

Former lawmakers Leung Kwok-hung, Lam Cheuk-ting, Helena Wong, and Raymond Chan were among the 14 found guilty by the three government-appointed judges. 

The judges said the two acquitted defendants,  Lee Yue-shun and Lawrence Lau, should be released on bail and report to the police every month, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post newspaper reported.

Justice Andrew Chan set June 25 as a tentative date for the court to hear mitigating arguments from those convicted.

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The case centers around an unofficial primary election held in July 2020 which the defendants said was intended to pick the best candidates to win a majority in local elections.

Prosecutors said the 47 wanted to paralyze the city’s legislature by winning the power to veto budgets.

The National Security Law was introduced in June 2020. A year earlier mass protests broke out in Hong Kong in opposition to what many residents saw as the erosion of the freedoms guaranteed when Britain returned the territory to China.

Western countries including the United States and Britain have criticized the security law as a setback for freedoms in the city.

Reacting to Thursday’s convictions, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said her government was “deeply concerned” by the verdicts, including that for one Australian citizen among them, Gordon Ng.

“Australia has expressed our strong objections to the Hong Kong authorities on the continuing broad application of national security legislation to arrest and pressure pro-democracy figures, opposition groups, media, trade unions, and civil society. 

“We know that the application of these laws also has implications for individuals outside of Hong Kong, including in Australia,” she said in a statement.

Amnesty International’s China Director Sarah Brooks called the mass conviction “the most ruthless illustration yet of how Hong Kong’s National Security Law is weaponized to silence dissent.”

She called on the international community to join Amnesty in demanding the immediate and unconditional release of the activists.

“To imprison these men and women, having already kept most of the 47 in pre-trial detention for more than three years, is a brazen injustice.

“None of those convicted have committed an internationally recognized crime; they have been targeted simply for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, and participation in public affairs,” she said.

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