Hong Kong activist Andy Li could face up to life imprisonment, after a lower court transferred his case under the Beijing-imposed national security law to the city’s High Court.
The 30-year-old was brought in front of Chief Magistrate Victor So on Wednesday, alongside paralegal Chan Tsz-wah, who is also aged 30.
The pair stand accused of conspiring with media tycoon Jimmy Lai, Lai’s aide Mark Simon and self-exiled activist Finn Lau – between last July 1 and February 15 this year – to request external forces to impose sanctions on Hong Kong or China.
The cases against Li and Chan were initially listed separately, but So accepted a request by the prosecution – represented by senior prosecutor Andy Lo – to combine the two and have them handled by the Court of First Instance at the High Court.
Li originally faced one count of conspiracy to assist an offender, which stemmed from his failed attempt to flee to Taiwan on a speedboat with 11 other Hong Kong fugitives. He also stood accused of possessing ammunition without a licence, after police allegedly found 232 empty tear gas cannisters, seven spent sponge grenades and 38 used rubber bullets at his residence in Sha Tin on August 10 last year.
But Lo asked So to commit only Li’s foreign collusion charge to the High Court, where the maximum penalty is life in jail. The prosecution decided not to proceed with the remaining charges, and they would be left on court file.
Similarly, Chan’s second charge of conspiracy to assist an offender would not be passed on to the High Court.
Colluding with foreign forces is outlawed in Hong Kong under the national security law enacted on June 30 last year. The sweeping legislation also criminalises secession, subversion and terrorist acts.
Remain in custody
Dressed in a white shirt with a pile of paper in his hands, Li gestured “okay” at people in the public gallery. Chan wore a brown blazer and a white t-shirt.
So remanded Li and Chan in custody pending their appearance at the High Court.
Li was represented by barrister Alain Sham, a former deputy director of public prosecutions of the Department of Justice, while Gibson Shaw was Chan’s defence lawyer.
Li has been in custody since his return from a Chinese prison in March. He and seven other Hongkongers were jailed for seven months last December for crossing the border illegally. Another two activists tried in China – Tang Kai-yin and Quinn Moon – received heavier sentences of three years and two years respectively, for organising an illegal border crossing.
Two minor fugitives were sent back to Hong Kong without charge after a Shenzhen court said they “admitted wrongdoing.”
News reports on Wednesday’s committal proceeding were subject to a list of restrictions under section 87A of the Magistrates Ordinance. Journalists may only report on the name of the magistrate and identity of the court, the offence, names of the counsels involved, the magistrate’s decision to commit the accused for trial and to where, as well as the adjournment date and places.