Largest national security trial begins in Hongkong

Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong speaks to the media in front of the high court in Hong Kong on May 16, 2019, before judgement is handed down on his appeal of a three-month jail term received for contempt of court during the clearance of Mong Kok at the 2014 occupy protests.
Joshua Wong

Some 47 people are on trial for flouting Hong Kong’s controversial national security law, in the largest case of its kind.

They include some of the city’s most prominent pro-democracy figures, such as activists Joshua Wong and Benny Tai.

Accused of “subversion” for holding an unofficial primary election, most of them have been detained for the past two years on national security grounds.

Critics say the national security law is used as a tool to crush dissent. But Chinese and Hong Kong authorities maintain it is needed to curb unrest.

On Monday long queues of supporters were seen outside the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court, where the hearing is taking place.

A small group of protesters also gathered outside the court. “Crackdown is shameless,” read one banner which added: “Immediately release all political prisoners.”

Prosecutors charge that the unofficial primary election – held to select candidates to contest a legislative election – was a “vicious plot” to subvert the government.

They had a “massive and well-organised scheme” to gain a legislative majority and cripple the government by blocking the passage of laws, with the ultimate aim of overthrowing the Beijing-appointed chief executive.

The group, which has been charged with conspiracy to commit subversion, has maintained they were merely practising normal opposition politics.

Dubbed “The 47” by local media, those on trial include:

  • Mr Wong, 26, who has been jailed three times for his role in protests
  • Mr Tai, 58, a former tenured professor at the University of Hong Kong
  • Former journalist Gwyneth Ho, 26, who covered the 2019 Yuen Long attack on protestors
  • Former lawmaker Claudia Mo, 66, who was an elected representative for eight years

A total of 31 of them, including Mr Wong and Mr Tai, have pleaded guilty and will be sentenced after the trial. The primary was held in July 2020, days after the national security law was introduced, drawing an estimated 600,000 voters.

The Chinese government soon declared the primary illegal. The September Legislative Council elections were then postponed, with authorities citing the pandemic as the reason.

The vote was eventually held after a revamp of electoral rules that meant only “patriots” – those loyal to China – were allowed to run for office. It drew Hong Kong’s lowest ever voter turnout.

The trial will be overseen by three handpicked judges and not a jury, which is the practice for national security law cases. It is expected to last 90 days.


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