The hearing for 47 Hong Kong pro-democracy figures facing national security charges dragged into a fourth day on Thursday. The bail hearing continued after seven defendants dismissed their lawyers on Wednesday to speak for themselves in court.
At around 9 am on Thursday, a long queue was seen outside the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts as citizens waited in patchy drizzle to get tickets to the open hearing. Many arrived more than an hour before the 39 men and eight women – who stand accused of “conspiracy to commit subversion” – were brought to court again pending a decision on their bail applications.
Chief Magistrate Victor So finished hearing the applications for bail for all defendants on Wednesday, but at least ten wanted to make supplementary submissions. The court is also set to consider whether to lift the reporting restrictions on bail proceedings, following requests from media to include more information in their coverage of the high-profile case.
At the beginning of Thursday’s hearing, prosecutor Maggie Yang said there were media reports on Wednesday that published information outside the ambit allowed under section 9P of the Criminal Procedure Ordinance: “[The information published] may be unfair to the defendants,” Yang said.
So responded by saying it was not the time to discuss the issue of the 9P restrictions. He reiterated that reporting on bail proceedings are restricted unless the court announces to lift the rules.
Largest security law round-up
The charges against the 47 democrats marked the biggest national security round-up yet in the city, after Beijing enacted a sweeping security legislation last June to outlaw secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and acts of terror in Hong Kong.
According to the charge sheet, police said the group conspired in a scheme with an intention to abuse their power and functions after being elected as legislators. The defendants aimed to obtain a legislative majority to “indiscriminately refuse to pass any budgets or public expenditure” to paralyse the government and force the chief executive to resign, the force said.
The procedures the democrats had hoped to enact are set out in Article 50 and 52 of the Basic Law, which the defence previously argued as “legitimate political activity” that “happen in most legislatures in the world.”
During Wednesday’s hearing, seven democrats – including former lawmakers Alvin Yeung, Jeremy Tam, Kwok Ka-ki and Lam Cheuk-ting, district councillors Lee Yue-shun and Clarisse Yeung and ex-Stand News reporter Gwyneth Ho – informed So that they would sack their lawyers and represent themselves in court.
When making a further submission for their applications for bail, both Yeung and Tam became emotional and choked up.
Most democrats had been detained since Sunday afternoon, after the force requested they report to a police station more than a month before the scheduled date. Some defence lawyers asked the court on Tuesday to allow family members to give the detainees fresh clothing, as the group had not been able to shower or change their clothes – including their underwear – for days.
But the chief magistrate turned down the requests, saying there were established procedures for handling defendants. Instead, he scheduled Wednesday’s hearing at noon to give the democrats time to freshen up at the detention facilities.
The opposition camp’s two-day vote last July saw more than 610,000 citizens casting their ballots, the organisers estimated at the time. Beijing slammed the poll, which aimed to shortlist pro-democracy candidates to stand in the now-postponed 2020 Legislative Council election. Beijing called it a “blatant provocation” to the city’s electoral system.