Hong Kong activist Andy Li and paralegal Chan Tsz-wah have pleaded guilty to taking part in a conspiracy to collude with foreign forces along with pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai.

Li and Chan will be sentenced under the Beijing-imposed security legislation next year, after they appeared before Judge Alex Lee on Thursday and admitted the offence.

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

The two defendants, both aged 30, pleaded guilty to conspiring with Jimmy Lai, Lai’s aide Mark Simon and self-exiled activist Finn Lau between July 2020 and February 15 this year to ask external forces to impose sanctions on Hong Kong or China.

Security was tight, with officers from the Correctional Services Department seen for the first time wearing black protective vests while they sat inside the dock with Li and Chan. The department declined to comment.

Colluding with foreign forces is punishable by up to life imprisonment under the sweeping security law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong on June 30 last year. The legislation also targets secession, subversion and terrorist acts.

Judge Lee did not proceed with mitigation and sentencing and adjourned the case to January 3 next year because Lai has yet to stand trial for the offence. Li and Chan remain in custody.

After lead prosecutor Anthony Chau read out a long summary of facts, both Li and Chan said they agreed with the stated details of the case, including the description of Lai and Simon as the “masterminds” of the conspiracy. “I agree to the facts and I would like to say sorry,” Li said.

Jimmy Lai
Jimmy Lai being transferred onto a Correctional Services vehicle on February 1, 2021. Photo: Studio Incendo.

Chau said the media mogul had provided “substantial financial support” to an “international propaganda” campaign that initially sought foreign intervention over alleged police brutality during the 2019 protests. It later expanded its mission to request foreign sanctions on Hong Kong or China, the prosecutor said.

According to Chau, Chan directly reported to Lai and Simon, while Li had led and directed the Stand With Hong Kong organisation. Finn Lau, who is currently in exile, was said to be a “spiritual leader” and to have promoted the ideology of “mutual destruction.”

The prosecutor said Li, Chan and the other defendants had adopted strategies including launching international crowdfunding campaigns and building an international network, in advancing their conspiracy. Their international lobbying efforts included drawing the attention of foreign governments to Hong Kong, holding meetings with overseas officials and influencing foreign policies.

National security law
Photo: GovHK.

The city saw its first-ever national security trial last month, when activist Tong Ying-kit was sentenced to nine years in prison – by a three-judge panel instead of a jury – for committing incitement to secession and terrorist activities. Tong has filed an appeal against conviction and sentence.

Li was among a group of 12 people intercepted by the Chinese coastguard last August, when they attempted to flee Hong Kong for Taiwan on a speedboat. Most were facing criminal charges linked to the 2019 protests. Li served seven months in prison in mainland China alongside seven other Hongkongers for crossing the border illegally.

Another two activists in the case – Tang Kai-yin and Quinn Moon – remain in mainland prisons, after they received heavier sentences of three years and two years respectively, for organising the border crossing. Two underage fugitives were handed over to Hong Kong police without charge to face trial in the city, after a Shenzhen court said they “admitted wrongdoing.”

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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.