Hong Kong’s largest national security case was sent to trial on Tuesday, after lingering 15 months in pre-trial procedures during which most of the 47 defendants were denied bail.
Under the security law, which Beijing imposed in 2020 following huge, sometimes violent democracy protests, the pro-democracy figures are charged with “conspiracy to subversion” for organising an unofficial primary election.
Subversion is one of the four major crimes under the security law and can carry a punishment of up to life in prison.
The defendants, aged between 24 and 66, include democratically elected lawmakers and district councillors, as well as unionists, academics and others, whose political stances range from modest reformists to radical localists.
The case was first brought to court in March 2020, when most of the 47 were denied bail after a four-day marathon hearing before a judge handpicked by the government to try national security cases.
Most of the pre-trial hearings over the past 15 months, though held in an open court, have been subject to reporting restrictions — with the court repeatedly refusing applications from defendants and journalists for them to be lifted.
Family members and legal representatives have told AFP that the opaqueness has made the defendants “frustrated and depleted”, and allowed the prosecution to “move the goalposts”.
After a three-and-half-day hearing that began Wednesday and Thursday last week and finished Tuesday, all but one of the 47 defendants were committed to a senior court by Principal Magistrate Peter Law, one of the national security judges.
Last Wednesday, Law announced that seventeen defendants had been committed for trial.
They included veteran activists “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, barrister Lawrence Lau, and journalist-turned-activist Gwyneth Ho.