Hong Kong’s High Court on Saturday approved the release on bail of three democrats, who are among a group of 47 charged with subversion under the national security law, but two former legislators were ordered to remain in custody pending trial.

The court upheld a magistrate’s decision to extend bail to district councillors Tat Cheng, Michael Pang and Ricky Or. The trio and 44 other pro-democracy figures are facing trial over “conspiracy to commit subversion” in connection with an unofficial legislative primary election organised by the opposition last July. 

High Court
High Court. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Ex-lawmakers Jeremy Tam and Kwok Ka-ki must remain behind bars, after Justice Esther Toh ruled in favour of the Department of Justice (DoJ) in their cases.

The department had challenged the decision by Chief Magistrate Victor So to grant bail to 11 defendants in the case. 

So had extended bail to a total of 15 democrats while remanding the other 32 in custody. The DoJ originally sought to keep all 15 locked up but dropped its objections to bail in four cases.

On Thursday the High Court had approved bail for former lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan but revoked bail for district councillor Ng Kin-wai.

High Court
Police vehicles parked outside the High Court on March 13, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Toh will hear four more bail reviews next Monday, concerning activists Sam Cheung, Lee Yue-shun, Sze Tak-loy and Kalvin Ho. 

So far, only eight of the 47 democrats have been freed on bail. Those denied it are all in custody after they were either refused bail again at a hearing on Friday or withdrew their applications.

They must spend months behind bars until the trial begins, with the next hearing not scheduled till May 31.

The 47 face charges over their roles in what prosecutors call a subversive attempt to win a majority in Legislative Council elections and oust the city’s leader through a vote in the chamber.

High Court
Police and reporters outside the High Court on March 13, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Upon their release on Saturday, Cheng, Pang and Or had to post cash bail and surrender their travel documents. They will be barred from contacting foreign officials, making any speech or engaging in any acts that may be reasonably deemed as violating the security law. The three must observe a curfew from midnight to 7 am. 

When Cheng left the court at around 4 pm, he put his hands together and bowed, saying: “Hope everyone can hang in there.”

Crowds queued outside the High Court to get tickets for the hearing that began on Saturday morning. Dozens of police were stationed around the courthouse, with at least ten officers patrolling in the nearby Admiralty MTR station. 

The arrest of the 47 democrats in January marked the biggest crackdown so far under the Beijing-imposed national security law, which came into force last June 30. The four offences under the legislation of secession, subversion, collusion with foreign powers and terrorist acts carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. 

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.