Twenty-one of the 47 democrats who have been charged under the national security law will remain in custody following a court hearing on Friday, after they were either denied bail once again or withdrew their applications.

Scores of people gathered at West Kowloon Court to show their support amid a heavy police presence.

Grandma Wong west kowloon magistrate courts
Protest regular Grandma Wong. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

The 47 are charged with subversion for their roles in a primary election organised by the opposition last July to pick candidates for a Legislative Council election which was scheduled for last year but later postponed.

The 21 are among 32 defendants whose bail applications were denied by Chief Magistrate Victor So last week. He allowed bail in 15 cases at the hearing on March 4 but the Justice Department is appealing against his decision in some of those cases.

The magistrate on Friday upheld his decision to refuse bail to 11 of the 21. Seven among them, activists Ng Ching-hang, Fergus Leung, Carol Ng, Lester Shum, Tiffany Yuen, Wong Ji-yuet and Wong Pak-yu retained their right to review their bail position again in eight days’ time.

West Kowloon Law Courts
West Kowloon Law Courts. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

But League of Social Democrats members Leung Kwok-hung and Jimmy Sham, activists Winnie Yu and former lawmaker Claudia Mo chose to waive their right to a further review.

The remaining ten — ex-lawmakers Lam Cheuk-Ting, Au Nok-hin, Wu Chi-wai, Eddie Chu, Andrew Wan and Alvin Yeung, as well as activists Gwenyth Ho, Joshua Wong, Owen Chow and Frankie Fung — told the court they were withdrawing their bid for bail. Only two of them — Ho and Lam — have retained their right to seek bail again.

Defendants who fail to secure bail could be held in custody for months awaiting trial. The national security law, which authorises a maximum punishment of life imprisonment, sets tougher conditions for bail than in regular criminal cases

47 democrats
(From left to right) Ng Kin-wai, Jimmy Sham, Lawrence Lau, Henry Wong, Kwok Ka-ki, Lee Yue-shun, Lam Cheuk-ting, Sam Cheung and Ray Chan getting on a Correctional Services Department vehicle on March 3, 2021. Photo: Studio Incendo.

The mood among the defendants was visibly lighter on Friday compared to their last appearance, when many shed tears or choked up as they made submissions to the magistrate.

Before the proceedings began, members of the public could hear several defendants laughing and making jokes through microphones in the dock.

West Kowloon Law Courts
West Kowloon Law Courts. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

Lam Cheuk-ting said he was in the same cell with Lester Shum and Eddie Chu, and they were able to chat with radio host “Giggs” Wan Yiu-shing — a defendant in a separate national security case — who was detained in a cell nearby.

Some were complimentary about the food where they were detained. “Stanley Prison is the Michelin of prisons, their chicken breast actually tasted like chicken,” Shum said. “It’s not bad at Tai Lam [Centre for Women] either, they had masala curry there,” Ho said.

“The Correctional Services have been so nice to us, very professional,” Lam said. “Completely different from the Hong Kong Police,” Shum replied.

After hearing that the judge had refused bail, Winnie Yu cheered from the dock: “Comrades, hang in there. Hongkongers, add oil.”

More than 100 people gathered outside the court to queue for tickets allowing them to observe the hearing. There was a heavy police presence, with almost 10 police vehicles parked nearby while officers patrolled the area.

The judiciary opened two additional courtrooms to accommodate members of the press and the public, where they could watch a video live stream of the hearing.

West Kowloon Law Courts hendrick lui
Hendrick Lui. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

Multiple pro-democracy figures arrived at the courthouse in Sham Shui Po Friday morning to try to attend the hearing.

They included activist and defendant Hendrick Lui who was charged but was granted bail last week, American lawyer John Clancy — who was among those arrested in January but was not charged last week — and District Councillors Douglas Tsang and Leslie Chan and activist Figo Chan.

Grandma Wong, a regular protester, was also seen outside the courthouse shouting slogans.

John Clancey
John Clancey. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

Some came to support friends charged with rioting in another case heard at the court, related to violent clashes between protesters and police near Polytechnic University in November 2019.

west kowloon magistrate court public
A young man came to support his friend in a PolyU riot case. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

“I’m just here to support my friend and other people who are in this [PolyU] case, whatever they are being accused of,” a young man told HKFP.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.