Dozens of Hong Kong pro-democracy figures, most of whom have been detained since late February, are facing more months in custody as they await a start date for trial under the national security law.

The 47 defendants, charged with “conspiracy to commit subversion” in connection with an an unofficial legislative primary election last July, appeared in front of Chief Magistrate Victor So at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Thursday.

Michael Pang, who was granted bail pending trial under the national security law, returns to the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on July 8, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The court was set to formally handle a prosecution request to transfer the high-profile trial for to the city’s High Court. Defendants convicted at the High Court could face up to life imprisonment.

But the prosecution – represented by senior public prosecutor Andy Lo – asked the court to adjourn the committal proceedings to September 23, as they needed more time to prepare for the case.

Tat Cheng, who was granted bail pending trial under the national security law, returns to the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on July 8, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

So eventually ordered the defendants to appear at the magistrates’ court on September 23, while the prosecution has to serve the committal bundle to the defence on or before September 9.

The group included former law professor Benny Tai, prominent activist Joshua Wong and former legislators Alvin Yeung, Claudia Mo and Lam Cheuk-ting.

Barrister Lawrence Lau Wai-chung, who was granted bail pending trial under the national security law, returns to the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on July 8, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Subversion is criminalised under the Beijing-imposed security law, which also targets secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts. The sweeping legislation, enacted on June 30 last year, has been used to arrest more than 120 people so far.

Bail denials

Among the 47 charged, only 12 have been granted bail. Former Tsuen Wan district councillor Roy Tam submitted a new application for bail in front of So on Thursday, but it was rejected.

According to local media, activist Owen Chow, who became the latest defendant to obtain bail last month, told reporters after the hearing that he hoped the Correctional Services Department (CSD) would implement measures to ease the effects of the city’s heatwave on detainees and prisoners.

Helena Wong, who was granted bail pending trial under the national security law, returns to the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on July 8, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The 24-year-old said the department could allow those in need to shower twice a day when the temperature hits 30 degrees Celsius or above, or when the hot weather warning is hoisted.

The 11 others who were released on bail did not speak to the press before or after the hearing. Most nodded and waved at reporters.

Detained activist Sam Cheung’s pregnant wife arrives at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts to attend a hearing on Cheung’s national security case. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

News reports on Thursday’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.

Kelly Ho

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.