Hong Kong activists face life terms as security trial proceeds

Hong Kong’s largest national security case has been sent for trial at the High Court, after 15 months in pre-trial procedures during which most of the 47 defendants were remanded in custody.

Under the security law, which Beijing imposed in 2020 following huge, sometimes violent democracy protests the year before, the pro-democracy figures are charged with “conspiracy to subversion” for organising an unofficial primary election to choose their best candidates for the Legislative Council election, which was then postponed.

Subversion is one of the four major crimes under the security law and carries a maximum punishment of life in prison.

The defendants, aged between 24 and 66, include democratically elected lawmakers and district councillors, as well as unionists, academics and others, whose political stances range from modest reformists to radical localists.

The case was first brought to court in March 2021, when most of the 47 were denied bail after a four-day marathon hearing before a judge handpicked by the government to try national security cases.

Most of the pre-trial hearings over the past 15 months, although held in an open court, have been subject to reporting restrictions – with the court repeatedly refusing applications from defendants and journalists for the curbs to be lifted.

They included veteran activists “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, barrister Lawrence Lau, and journalist-turned-activist Gwyneth Ho.

Twenty-nine others – including legal scholar Benny Tai, who was also one of the leaders of the Occupy Central movement in 2014 – were committed for trial on Monday and Tuesday.

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