The 47 Hong Kong pro-democracy opposition figures, who were charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under the city’s draconian national security law, may have their cases moved to a higher court where they could face heavier sentences.
At the West Kowloon court building on May 31, Judge Victor So ruled that the court case will resume on July 8, with the possibility that the case will be transferred to the High Court. The judge also rejected the bail application of one of the defendants—former district counselor Tiffany Yuen.
Charges against the activists under the national security law that Beijing imposed last year are punishable with life in prison.
The 47 opposition figures were arrested and charged in late February, and only 11 of them were subsequently granted bail. The remaining 36, including Yuen, had been held in custody for three months before the May 31 court session. Included among the 11 granted bail was Helen Wong, a former Hong Kong lawmaker.
On May 31, Wong left the court building without speaking to reporters. Before leaving, she waved to supporters, who shouted “Hongkongers, add oil,” a phrase that means “keep it up” in Chinese.
Aside from Yuen and Wong, others accused of subversion include former lawmakers Claudia Mo, Leung Kwok-hung, and Alvin Yeung.
Shortly after the court session, Benedict Rogers, co-founder and chief executive of London-based NGO Hong Kong Watch, and Samuel Chu, managing director of the Washington-based Hong Kong Democracy Council, took to Twitter to express their dismay.
“The opaque nature of the court proceeding is deeply alarming. The NSL [national security law] has thoroughly infected every courtroom and every ruling in the Hong Kong judiciary,” Chu wrote. “There is no chance that anyone would receive a fair trial in this environment.”
Rogers agreed with Chu’s assessment in a post of his own.
“We need action urgently. We need Magnitsky sanctions now,” he said.
Hong Kong’s freedoms have been on a rapid decline since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) imposed the national security law on Hong Kong in July last year. The law criminalizes vaguely defined crimes such as subversion and secession with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
When the 47 were charged in February, it drew international condemnation, including from the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.
The subversion charge against the 47 opposition figures was in connection to their participation in an unofficial primary vote held by Hong Kong’s pan-democracy camp in July 2020, two months ahead of the scheduled Legislative Council (LegCo) elections. The objective behind the vote was for the camp to field the most promising candidates to run for legislative office—with the goal to ultimately secure a majority—more than 35 seats—in the 70-seat LegCo.
Over 600,000 Hong Kong residents cast ballots in the primary, which was held on July 11 and July 12, 2020.
The LegCo elections, initially scheduled for Sept. 6, 2020, were eventually postponed by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, who at that time cited the local surge in CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus infections, which causes the disease COVID-19. The next LegCo elections are currently scheduled for Dec. 19.
The LegCo has recently been expanded to 90 seats after it passed an electoral reform bill. Critics have condemned the bill for curbing the city’s democratic representation, because the number of seats directly elected by Hong Kong citizens has been reduced from 35 to 20.
Before the May 31 court session began, more than 100 people lined up outside the courthouse to hear the case. Some of them showed their support for the activists by dressing in black, the color associated with the anti-CCP, pro-democracy movement that started in June 2019.
Others gestured with five fingers, representing the five demands, including universal suffrage, that Hong Kong protesters have been calling for in their movement. Some flashed their cellphones, which was a common act when protesters held indoor or evening protests since the start of the movement.
Several consular representatives in Hong Kong also showed up to hear the case, including Johannes Harms from Germany, Joakim Ladeborn from Sweden, Rogier Hekking from the Netherlands, and Ryan Neelam from Australia.
“We are here to observe the court proceedings because when these people were arrested, our foreign ministry expressed strong concerns. And we are here in line with the transparency of the judicial system in Hong Kong to observe what happens today,” Neelam, who is Australia’s deputy consul-general in Hong Kong, told local media.
Other local activists who attended the hearing included Emily Lau, former chairman of the city’s opposition Democratic Party, as well as retired bishop Cardinal Joseph Zen.
The Hong Kong bureau of The Epoch Times contributed to this report.