The case for seven members of the group Returning Valiant — including four minors — has been adjourned until late January as they await approval for legal aid. The group are facing charges of conspiring to incite subversion. Meanwhile, a 15-year-old defendant’s application for an anonymity order was denied, as she will turn 16 next week, the judge said.

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Protest regular Alexandra “Grandma Wong” was seen outside the court house on November 20, 2021 waving a union jack. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

The defendants were Yuen Ka-him, 16, Choi Wing-kit, 20, Leung Yung-wan, 16, Chan Yau-tsun, 25, Tseung Chau Ching-yu, 16, Kwok Man-hei, 18, as well as the 15-year-old girl. They were charged in late September under articles 22 and 23 of the national security law for inciting others to overthrow or to undermine the Hong Kong and the Chinese governments with or without the use or the threat of force, as well as sections 159A and 159C of the Crimes Ordinance for the act of conspiracy.

A total of 15 members of the group were arrested over alleged possession of explosives and materials with pro-independence slogans between May and September. Seven of them – not included in the present case – were charged with conspiracy to commit terrorist activities, including two 15-year-olds. Four others were charged in connection with burgling a school in Tseung Kwan O.

They have been custody pending trial after bail applications were denied in late September by a magistrate.

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A protest in 2019. File Photo: May James/HKFP.

The 15-year-old defendant and Chan Yau-tsun appeared without legal representation on Thursday. District Court Judge Stanley Chan heard and approved all seven applications to adjourn the case until late January, as their legal aid applications are still being processed. None of them applied for bail.

Just before the court dismissed the defendants, a barrister for the second defendant Choi spoke quickly with the 15-year-old defendant through the dock’s glass pane before the latter raised her hand to ask the judge to grant an anonymity order, as she is currently under the age threshold as a juvenile, but will turn 16 next Tuesday.

Birthday next week

In a severe tone, Judge Stanley Chan reprimanded the barrister for communicating with a defendant who was not their client without his approval. “You just violated at least two rules of professional conduct,” he said. “You can’t do whatever you wish to do.” The lawyer then apologised and said she acted rashly, as she was worried that the defendant may forget about submitting the request before the court retires. Chan said he would let the matter go, but rejected the request for anonymity.

Hong Kong laws prohibit revealing a defendant’s name when they are under 16 years of age but once they turn 16, anonymity protection will no longer apply unless ordered by a judge.

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Wan Chai government tower. Photo: Selina Cheng/HKFP.

“I will not grant the anonymity order as you will have your birthday soon,” Chan said.

In a courtroom packed with close to 100 young friends, relatives and defence counsels for the defendants, several shouted “happy birthday” before the defendants were led away from the dock.

If convicted at the district court, adult offenders may face a maximum sentence of seven years behind bars. Under the Juvenile Offenders Ordinance, defendants aged 14 to 15 should not be given prison sentences if they can be dealt with in any other way. However, this may be superseded by the national security law, which stipulates that offenders may be handed up to 10 years of jail time for serious offences.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.