• Sat. Oct 29th, 2022

About 1,000 demonstrators surround the West Kowloon Magistrates Court as 47 pro-democracy activists face charges related to Hong Kong’s strict new security law.

Mar 1, 2021

A hearing for 47 democracy activists charged with conspiracy to commit subversion has begun amid tight security in Hong Kong.
Key points:

  • The activists are accused of participating in an unofficial primary poll last July
  • Authorities say it was part of a plan to “overthrow” the Hong Kong government
  • More than 100 police officers kept around 1,000 protesters in check outside the court

More than 100 police officers were deployed outside the West Kowloon Magistrates Court, facing off against about 1,000 protesters chanting pro-democracy slogans in the city’s largest rally this year.
The activists, who were arrested on Sunday, are accused of organising and participating in an unofficial primary poll last July aimed at selecting the strongest candidates for a legislative council election.
The government later postponed the vote, citing the pandemic.
Authorities said the informal poll was part of a plan to “overthrow” the government.
The pro-democracy activists were charged under the new national security law.(Reuters: Tyrone Siu)
The arrests have further raised fears that Hong Kong has taken a swift authoritarian turn since Beijing imposed a national security law on the former British colony last June.
“This is the most ridiculous arrest in the history of Hong Kong,” said 57-year-old protester Herbert Chow, who wore a black face mask outside the court.
“But I have confidence in our judicial system to restore justice it’s the last line of defence.”
Many were dressed in black, the colour associated with the 2019 anti-government protests, while some chanted: “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” and: “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.”
Others raised the three-finger salute that has become the symbol of protest against authoritarian rule in Myanmar.
The protesters hope the Hong Kong judicial system will “restore justice” after the arrests.(AP: Vincent Yu)
The activists 39 men and eight women, ages 23-64 were charged on Sunday under the national security law, which punishes what China broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
International condemnation of arrests
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for the 47 to be released immediately.
“Political participation and freedom of expression should not be crimes,” Mr Blinken said on Twitter.
“The US stands with the people of Hong Kong.”
LoadingBritish Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described the charges as “deeply disturbing”.
The queue to enter the court stretched several hundred metres, nearly reaching around the entire block.
‘Full faith in judiciary’
Several foreign diplomats also joined the queue to attend.
Jonathan Williams, a British diplomat at the UK consulate in Hong Kong, said he was concerned by the arrests.
“It’s clear that the use of the national security law is going much broader than the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities promised,” Mr Williams said.
He added, however, that the UK government had “full faith in the independent judiciary” to deal with the defendants fairly and impartially without political pressure.
As crowds swelled outside the court building, some held up large yellow banners that said: “Release all political prisoners now.”
Authorities have said that campaigning to win a majority in Hong Kong’s 70-seat Legislative Council, with the purpose of blocking government proposals to ramp up pressure for democratic reforms, could be seen as subversive.
A handful of pro-Beijing supporters joined the crowd outside West Kowloon court.(Reuters: Tyrone Siu)
Among those charged were the organiser of the primary election and former law professor Benny Tai, as well as prominent activists Lester Shum, Joshua Wong and Owen Chow.
The charges are the latest blow to the city’s pro-democracy movement.
Since the security legislation was imposed on the city last June, some elected legislators have been disqualified, scores of activists arrested and others have fled overseas.
The crackdown on dissent comes as Chinese officials prepare to unveil electoral reforms that will most likely further diminish the role and influence of opposition forces in public office.
Some of the demonstrators wore black which symbolises their 2019 protests.(AP: Vincent Yu)