Hong Kong Activists Back in Court on Subversion Charges
(Bloomberg) -- Dozens of pro-democracy activists are returning to court in Hong Kong to continue their arraignment on subversion charges, while Beijing presses ahead with plans to overhaul the city’s electoral system.
The hearing Tuesday will determine whether the 47 defendants remain in jail or get released on bail before a trial that could be months away. The accused include some of the city’s most prominent activists such as Joshua Wong, Benny Tai and Jimmy Sham and most have objected to government requests to keep them in jail while also delaying further proceedings until at least May 31.
The mass hearing before Chief Magistrate Victor So lasted much of the day Monday, with hundreds of supporters staging a defiant rally outside. It adjourned around 3 a.m. after one defendant, Clarisse Yeung, 34, fainted. A small number of protesters gathered outside the courthouse in the West Kowloon area for a second day.
Police gave tickets to 42 people for breaching Covid-related restrictions during the protests outside the court Monday, Cable TV reported. One person was arrested for crossing a cordoned area and refusing to produce identification, the broadcaster said.
The case comes days before an annual meeting of China’s legislature opens in Beijing, with senior officials calling for lawmakers to overhaul the former British colony’s election system to further diminish the influence of pro-democracy politicians. Hong Kong delegates pressed for changes to ensure only “patriots” govern the city in meetings with senior Chinese officials Sunday and Monday, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.
The National People’s Congress planned to pass a framework for the changes, the Hong Kong Economic Times said in a column Tuesday, citing people close to policy makers in Beijing that it didn’t identify. The exact details of the plan would be written by the NPC’s Standing Committee and Hong Kong’s government would then put them into force, the Chinese-language newspaper said.
The Sing Tao Daily said in a separate column that the whole process would take four to five months, citing people it didn’t identify. Both of the pieces were published under pseudonyms.
The 47 opposition figures are being prosecuted over their roles in helping organize a primary that drew more than 600,000 voters in July last year to choose candidates for Legislative Council elections that were later postponed. Authorities say the primary and plans to force the resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam using a provision of the mini-constitution were an illegal attempt to paralyze the government.
Alan Leong, a former lawmaker and chief executive candidate who is serving as a lawyer for four defendants, suggested in court Monday that prosecutors were hurrying the arraignment hearings because of the Chinese legislative gathering, which starts Friday.
“Why were the charges laid now,” he said. “Are they rushing for the NPC meeting?”
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