Thursday, January 27

Hong Kong trial of 47 pro-democracy activists delayed 11 weeks | Hong Kong

Prosecutors have been granted another month-long delay in the trial of 47 Hong Kong politicians, activists and pro-democracy activists who held pre-election primaries declared illegal under their comprehensive national security law.

A court was originally expected to hear a request on Thursday to transfer the case to a higher court with powers to order longer jail sentences, but prosecutors requested an 11-week postponement, saying they needed more time to prepare, the officials reported. local media.

The 47 people were among 55 detained by national security police on January 6 and include members of civil society, social workers, teachers and former pro-democracy lawmakers who had represented Hong Kong voters for decades.

Most have been in jail since at least the end of February, when a multi-day hearing, which heard allegations that the defendants had been denied showers and breaks, and that four had been taken to hospital, resulted in that all but 12 were denied bail.

The group faces charges of conspiracy to commit subversion under national security law for holding unofficial primary elections in July 2020, ahead of general elections postponed since then. The primaries are not a formal part of the Hong Kong electoral process, they are not binding and have been held by various political sides, including pro-system parties.

But the pan-democratic event was seen as an unofficial statement about the government, after a year of massive protests and subsequent crackdown, and an estimated 600,000 people turned out to vote for the candidates. Beijing declared the event illegal and six months later, Hong Kong authorities used the national security law to arrest all the candidates, organizers and personnel involved.

The national security law was imposed in Hong Kong by Beijing just 10 days before the primaries, prohibiting various acts such as secession, subversion, foreign collusion and terrorism, and has been widely criticized for being too broad, draconian and for being used as a weapon. against dissent. . More than 128 people have been arrested and at least 65 charged under the law.

Only one serious national security trial has begun, and the proceedings are being closely watched amid concerns that Hong Kong’s long-respected judiciary is eroding amid the crackdown.

In several cases, prosecutors have requested and been granted a transfer to a higher court that would allow for much harsher sentences of up to life in prison if convicted.

On Wednesday, the court transferred the case of the activist Andy Li, who has been charged with foreign collusion, before the higher court. Last month the same request was granted for the foreign collusion trial of media mogul and activist Jimmy Lai. Lai is serving sentences for protest-related activities for a total of 20 months.

The postponement until September 23 by Chief Magistrate Victor So before a packed courtroom that includes foreign media and diplomats means that all but the 12 defendants released on bail will remain in prison.

The national security law reverses the burden of proof regarding bail, requiring defendants to convince the judge that they would not endanger national security if they were released. In at least one bail case, that of former legislator Claudia Mo, private communications with foreign journalists were cited the 64-year-old man as evidence, who does not have a criminal record, could commit a crime again.

The Hong Kong authorities’ crackdown on opposition and dissent has expanded in recent months, leading to the closure of the popular pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, founded and owned by Lai, and the arrest or indictment. of various editorial employees, including his editor in Chief, with foreign collusion offenses.

This week, more pro-democracy district councilors reportedly resigned following local media reports that up to 200 could be disqualified for past “unpatriotic” behavior and your recovered wages, even if they meet a new requirement to take an oath of allegiance.

Some national security court hearings, including the February bail hearing and Li’s appearance on Wednesday, have been subject to reporting restrictions.

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