Hong Kong’s biggest national security trial begins on Monday, with 47 pro-democracy activists and politicians accused of “attempting to violate the law” by organizing an illegal vote in 2020, days after a new security law was enacted. .
Sixteen people are expected to plead not guilty, although that number could change Monday as the defendants weigh their options in terms of possible penalties.
Those charged include “Long Hair” activists Leung Kwok-hung and Gordon Ng Ching-hang, who face life in prison as one of five people accused of being the “main facilitator” of the election rigged as the way for the democratic camp to take place. electing the most powerful in the Legislative Council election which was later postponed.
The defendants who have pleaded guilty will be sentenced after the trial and include activists such as Joshua Wong, who has previously been convicted of other crimes, and Claudia Mo, a former journalist who turned the law. Together, 47 are all that remain of Hong Kong’s democratic leadership after massive protests demanding political change in 2019 ended dramatically with the arrival of COVID-19, and the national security law pushed many into exile.
The impeachment trial is the future of Hong Kong’s democratic movement, said Eric Lai, a non-resident fellow at the Georgetown Center for Asia Law. in the future.
“The majority of the people in the city, the pro-democracy camp, have received more than 60 percent of the votes in the last decade’s elections and now the government decided to arrest and prosecute all the top leaders in Hong Kong,” said Lai. Al Jazeera.
“In a way, it’s a test for these leaders and their supporters.”
Under the security law, which came into force on June 30, 2020, the accused face up to three years in prison for conspiracy, three to 10 years for complicity in the attack, and between 10 years and life imprisonment if they are found guilty. they are “guilty”.
The latest case also applies to Ng and four other defendants: former university professor Benny Tai, former councilor Au Nok-hin, and former provincial councilors Andrew Hiu Ka-yin and Chung Kam-lun.
Tai and Au are facing more serious charges, according to court documents, for their “attempts to undermine the power of the Government, to obstruct the functioning of the government. [Hong Kong] Government”, according to the opposition. Prosecutors also say the defendants hope that disrupting their operations will attract international aid and lead to the punishment of Hong Kong and Chinese officials.
ban the media
Held in July 2020, the vote was designed to be a “preliminary” for Democratic candidates competing in the September 2020 Legislative Council elections.
The supporters hope to win the democracy camp and use the majority of votes to bring about democratic change in Hong Kong.
Some of the platforms coincided with the events that took place in the city in 2014 and 2019, including the resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, an independent investigation into police brutality during protests and political reforms with the aim of establishing civil liberties. part.
Under Hong Kong’s political system, its leader is elected by a group of people appointed by Beijing and a portion of its legislative seats are elected by popular vote.
The July 2020 election attracted more than 600,000 voters, many of whom waited for hours to take part, but the results were disrupted when the government announced that legislative elections would be delayed for a year due to COVID-19.
Following the investigation, as Hong Kong went into lockdown, the police chased the 47 accused and six other people in a dawn raid of a type reserved for organized crime groups.
Most of the 47 have been held in custody since their arrests in January 2021, and bail has been granted to only 13 people. Due to strict COVID-19 laws, victims were unable to see their families and lawyers, or receive letters, for months.
Some defendants say they have not been able to obtain Statements of Facts explaining the crimes against them, so their lawyers are forced to follow the law. The case was subject to a press ban that was lifted in August last year.
William Nee, a researcher and co-ordinator at China Human Rights Defenders, likens the case to a “preliminary strike” against an entire generation of pro-democracy activists and former parliamentarians between the ages of 24 and 66.
“This case is baseless according to international law. People have the right to contest. Once they are elected, they have the right to vote as they wish. Obviously, Beijing saying what you want to contest and casting votes against what we want is a conspiracy to violate international law and order. the whole world,” said Nee.
“This is what is so disgusting about this case. It is a naked attack on democracy in Hong Kong.”
Under common law in Hong Kong, defendants can have up to 25 percent of their charges reduced on the first day of trial, but this does not apply to national security cases. Neither is the jury system, where the case will be heard by a panel of three judges hand-picked by the city manager.
Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch describes the country’s security measures as a “Frankenstein” model depicted in Hong Kong’s long-respected legal system.
The trial is expected to last about 90 days. It is possible that in the end, the accused will receive “time served” to be incarcerated before their trial but most face a sentence of less than three years in prison.
“Everything will be unpredictable as we go. I think what’s clear is that Beijing is using clear rules to suppress Hong Kong’s democratic movement,” Wang told Al Jazeera.
“To see them being prosecuted and imprisoned is a misunderstanding of many people in Hong Kong. It is a clear manifestation of oppression.”