HK Security Hearing Adjourned After Activist Collapses in Court
A Hong Kong court adjourned the arraignment of dozens of democracy advocates until later on Tuesday after one of the people facing charges of subversion collapsed and was taken to the hospital.
Hundreds of protesters risked arrest outside the court to demonstrate after the detentions, which were the most sweeping use to date of the national security law imposed by China in June. The hearing will decide whether the 47 activists, who include organizers of the anti-government protests that rocked the Asian financial hub in 2019, should remain in jail or whether any should be released on bail during trial.
Activists including Joshua Wong, Benny Tai and Jimmy Sham, who played a role in an informal election primary last year, were brought before Chief Magistrate Victor So in a court session that dragged on late into the night. So then called a recess until 11:30 a.m. after one of the defendants, 34-year-old Clarisse Yeung Suet-ying, fainted.
Not only did those gathered risk arrest by attending an unauthorized rally, some chanted a slogan banned by authorities under the security law. Police warned some participants their activities could violate the legislation.
“I’m here to support our comrades,” said Kwan Chun-sang, a district councilor. “As long as this breath lasts, I’ll fight until the end.”
In another court in the same complex, a handful of other prominent activists -- including Martin Lee, Hong Kong’s so-called Father of Democracy, and media tycoon Jimmy Lai -- were being tried on separate charges related to their roles in an unauthorized rally.
So many Hong Kong activists and politicians are facing multiple cases that Lee’s trial had to be adjourned because a fellow defendant was being arraigned in the security law case, Radio Television Hong Kong reported.
The latest charges were condemned by the U.S., with Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling for the “immediate release” of the activists and the Chinese Foreign Ministry warning Washington not to meddle in its affairs. The court cases in Hong Kong are just one of several moves by authorities to clamp down on the opposition ahead of a legislative election planned for later this year.
The hearings also comes ahead of the annual National People’s Congress session in Beijing, with senior officials calling for lawmakers to overhaul Hong Kong’s election system to further reduce the influence of pro-democracy politicians. One defendant’s lawyer suggested in court that prosecutors were rushing the case ahead of the NPC meeting.
Xia Baolong, head of the Chinese agency responsible for the city, is meeting Hong Kong officials in nearby Shenzhen to discuss electoral changes. Xia said in a speech last month that activists Lai, Tai and Wong should be “severely punished,” the pro-Beijing magazine Bauhinia reported Monday.
“The decision to charge these people also suggests that the government wants to do real and lasting damage to the political opposition in Hong Kong, above and beyond the 2021 election cycle,” said Thomas Kellogg, executive director of the Georgetown Center for Asian Law. “It may be that we’re seeing the end of formal opposition politics.”
Beijing is tightening control over the city after the sometimes violent protests in 2019. The security law carries sentences as long as life in prison depending on the severity of the offense, and has been criticized by lawyers, rights groups and international governments as a violation of Beijing’s promise to respect Hong Kong’s freedoms and “high degree of autonomy.”
“The national security law is being used to wipe out all of our voices inside Hong Kong which are opposing the government,” said Sam Yip, vice-convener of the Civil Human Rights Front, a group that organized protests during the 2019 unrest and encouraged people to line up Monday outside the courthouse.
The opposition figures detained Sunday are being prosecuted over their roles in helping organize a primary that drew more than 600,000 voters in July to choose candidates for Legislative Council elections. Authorities argue the primary, as well as 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.
The election was eventually postponed for a year, with the government citing the coronavirus. Critics said the pro-China local administration hoped to avoid a repeat of a defeat in local district council polls in late 2019.
Former Legislative Council President Rita Fan told officials at the Shenzhen meeting that district councilors should be barred from the 1,200-person committee that selects the chief executive, according to the Standard newspaper. The 2019 victory for democracy advocates in 17 of 18 district councils gave the opposition around 117 seats on that committee and a better chance of blocking Beijing’s choice to lead the city.
While almost 100 people have been arrested under the security law, prosecutors had previously only brought charges against 10 of them. The most prominent is Lai, who has been denied bail and is awaiting trial on charges he colluded with foreign powers to impose sanctions or engage in hostile activities against Hong Kong or China.
“People just want to express their wish on how the pro-democracy camp can get more seats in the Legislative Council, but they’re being accused of ‘subversion,’” District Councilor Angus Wong said outside the court. “The future of Hong Kong is very gloomy.”
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