Hundreds of people gathered in protest outside a Hong Kong court on Monday as the authorities charged 47 pro-democracy activists, including sitting councilors and former lawmakers, with “subversion” under a national security law imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
As the crowd outside chanted banned slogans from the 2019 protest movement, including “Go Hong Kong!” and “Five demands, not one less!”, the defendants appeared in court after being charged and remanded in custody in a mass operation on Sunday.
Banners also appeared despite warnings that police could arrest more people under the national security law, calling for the release of all political prisoners, amid a widening crackdown on political opposition and peaceful dissent since the national security law took effect on July 1, 2020.
Among them was former Hong Kong University law professor Benny Tai and founder of the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement and former Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai.
Several former opposition lawmakers were also charged, including Eddie Chu, James To, Andrew Wan, Jeremy Tam, Gary Fan, Kwok Ka-ki, Helena Wong, Lam Cheuk-ting, Au Nok-hin, and Alvin Yeung, along with Yuen Long District Councillor and primary candidate Ng Kin-wai and District Councillor Tiffany Yuen.
Some defendants shouted out that they had been denied access to legal representation.
Protesters rally outside a Hong Kong court as the authorities charged 47 pro-democracy activists picked up in mass arrests at the weekend, March 1, 2021. Credit: RFA No access to lawyers
A male defendant also said: “I haven’t seen a lawyer yet. I want to instruct a lawyer.” However, it was unclear which defendant had said this, as family members in the public gallery said they couldn’t see their loved ones’ faces.
Lam Cheuk-ting shouted: “Wife, I love you!”
All were denied bail and remanded in custody for three months after the prosecution called for an adjournment.
Defense attorneys said the delay was too long, given that many had official duties and that bail had been denied.
The lawyer for veteran rights activist Leung Kwok-hung said police hadn’t mentioned the fresh charges against him when he reported on Feb. 10 to fulfil bail conditions on a different case, and had remanded him in custody suddenly after charging him.
Senior counsel Alan Leong, who represents four of the defendants, said the prosecution was using the delay as a way of locking up 47 people.
He said it was customary in Hong Kong for police to gather evidence before they charged people.
“If the prosecution hasn’t finished its investigation and doesn’t have enough evidence, then where is the case [against these people]?” he said.
“If you can’t show evidence, then why are you such a hurry to hold them for 90 days? You can’t have your cake and eat it,” Leong said.
Police have said the defendants were charged for their involvement in democratic primaries in July 2020. The primaries were considered “subversive” because their stated aim was to secure at least 35 seats in LegCo for opposition candidates, so the pro-democracy camp could veto the government’s budgets.
Such an action is regarded as “subversion of state power” under Article 22 of the national security law, according to the authorities.
The arrests come after the primaries were criticized in state-run Chinese media as an attempt to foment a “color revolution.”
After the elections were postponed, the entire pro-democracy camp resigned from LegCo en masse in November 2020, in protest at the ouster of four opposition lawmakers following a decree from the National People’s Congress (NPC) standing committee in Beijing.
Beijing has since repeatedly warned that only “patriots” who love China and the CCP will be allowed to hold public office in Hong Kong.
The head of China’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, Xia Baolong, has reportedly called for “severe punishment” for Jimmy Lai, jailed activist Joshua Wong and Benny Tai.
In a transcript published by the pro-Beijing Bauhinia magazine, Xia apparently called the trio “the most vicious traitors” while attending a forum in Shenzhen to discuss election reforms in Hong Kong, government broadcaster RTHK reported.
Reported by Gigi Lee for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.