A judge ruled on July 8 that court cases for 47 Hong Kong pro-democracy activists will resume in late September, after prosecutors were granted more time to build a case against them.
The 47 activists, who were among 55 arrested by national security police on Jan. 6, were charged with participating in a primary vote in 2020 that was unofficial, non-binding, and independently organized.
The primaries saw hundreds and thousands of people voting, despite warnings that doing so would breach the Beijing-imposed national security law implemented in the same year.
While the primary was to select candidates for a since-postponed city election, authorities said it was a “vicious plot” to subvert the government and charged many of the activists with “conspiracy to commit subversion.”
Judge Victor So in the West Kowloon Court ruled that the defendants will return to court on Sept. 23 after Thursday’s appearance as prosecutors had requested more time to prepare the case.
The activists, aged 23 to 64, now face life in prison if convicted under the draconian national security law, which critics say has crushed the city’s wide-ranging rights and freedoms, turning the city into just like any other city in mainland China.
Those arrested include civil society members, social workers, teachers, and former pro-democracy legislators, who had represented Hong Kong constituents for decades but have since retired.
Many of them have been denied bail because of communications they’d with the United States or overseas journalists. Back in February, a days-long hearing heard claims that many of the defendants had been denied showers and rests, while four had been taken to hospital.
In addition to the new national security law, which was imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing just 10 days before the primary, authorities have changed the criteria for Hong Kong elections and the makeup of the legislature to ensure an overwhelming pro-Beijing majority.
Since the security law was introduced, the most prominent pro-democracy figures have been jailed, fled abroad or intimidated into silence while demonstrations have been banned.
The city’s most prominent pro-democracy newspaper, the Apple Daily, printed its last edition on June 24 following a raid on its headquarters and the freezing of key assets and bank accounts.
Five hundred police officers searched the newsroom for evidence of the company violating the national security law which was imposed by Beijing on the city last year. Hong Kong police arrested five top executives of the company.
More than 120 people, mainly opposition politicians, democracy activists, and students as young as 15, have been arrested under the security law so far.
Beijing has defended the moves as necessary to restore order in the Asian financial hub and prevent the type of protests seen in Hong Kong during much of 2019.
Critics say they mark a betrayal of the central government’s promise to maintain Hong Kong’s civil liberties for 50 years after its handover from British colonial rule in 1997.
Reuters contributed to this report.