Dozens of Hong Kong pro-democracy figures facing national security charges will spend several more months in custody, after a proceeding to commit the case to a higher court was adjourned to late November.
The 47 defendants, most of whom have been detained for close to seven months, returned to West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Thursday. It is the second time the group appeared at a committal hearing, where the magistrate was set to formally deal with the prosecution’s request to transfer the “subversion” case to the High Court.
The democrats stand accused of taking part in a conspiracy to commit subversion by organising and participating in an unofficial legislative primary election held in July 2020. So far, only 14 of the 47 defendants have been released on bail awaiting trial.
Some of the 14 defendants on bail arrived in the courthouse amid pouring rain, as the Hong Kong Observatory issued a thunderstorm warning on Thursday morning. Pro-democracy activist Alexandra “Grandma” Wong, who often protested outside court, chanted slogans and waved a union jack under the roof of the courthouse briefly before she was stopped by court staff.
Inside the courtroom, some defendants waved and nodded at their family, friends and supporters as they were escorted to the dock in lines.
The renovated dock featured three long benches, which were fully occupied by the democrats and the accompanying corrections officers.
Before the hearing began, the democrats chatted and wished their co-defendants – district councillor Tiffany Yuen and activist Wong Ji-yuet – a “happy birthday,” since both will mark their birthdays next week while in custody.
After hearing submissions by senior prosecutor Andy Lo, and defence lawyers – including barristers David Ma, Anson Wong and Senior Counsel Paul Harris – Acting Chief Magistrate Peter Law ordered the committal proceeding for 45 defendants to be adjourned to November 29.
In the afternoon, Law handled the remaining two defendants – former lawmaker Helena Wong and barrister Lawrence Lau – and asked them to appear at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts again in late November, alongside the 45 others.
Journalist-turned activist Gwyneth Ho sought bail on Thursday, along with an application to lift the media reporting limitation on her bail application. Some journalists had filed the same request, Law said.
Ho’s representative, Douglas Kwok, made a speech on top of his written submission, which was met with a round of applause from members of the public in the gallery. In denying bail to the 33rd defendant, Law said there was insufficient grounds for believing that the former Stand News reporter would not continue to commit acts endangering national security if bail was granted.
The acting chief magistrate also refused to lift the reporting restrictions, saying that allowing media reports may lead to discussion on the case or even stir controversies in society.
Under court reporting restrictions, written and broadcast reports are limited to only include the result of a bail proceedings, the name of the person applying for bail and their representation, and the offence concerned.
As Ho was led away, she said: “Even if you don’t lift [the restrictions], the discussion [on the case] would not cease.”
Additional reporting: Candice Chau.