Dozens of pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong will spend Christmas and the New Year behind bars, as a court adjourned their case under the Beijing-imposed national security law to next year with no clear trial date.
The 47 democrats, most of whom have been detained for around nine months, appeared at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Monday after the proceedings to formally commit their case to the High Court were adjourned twice.
The group stands accused of taking part in a conspiracy to commit subversion, in connection with an unofficial legislative primary election held in July last year. So far, only 14 defendants have been granted bail pending trial.
They could face up to life imprisonment if convicted by the High Court.
Acting Chief Magistrate Peter Law on Monday ordered some defendants to return to the court on February 8, while another court appearance is scheduled for March 4.
Protest slogan chanted
When the detained defendants entered the dock, many waved and nodded at their family and friends in the public gallery. Dressed in a black blazer and a yellow top, activist “Fast Beat” Tam Tak-chi raised a hand gesture signalling “Five demands, not one less” and shouted the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.”
The five demands refer to the aims of the 2019 pro-democracy protests and unrest. Whilst the ” Liberate Hong Kong” slogan was banned the government last July, and was ruled to be capable of carrying a secessionist meaning during the city’s first national security trial.
Other defendants and the crowd in the public gallery cheered and clapped whilst a corrections officer told Tam to sit down.
Defendants who were on bail sat on a long bench outside of the dock. Former lawmaker Ray Chan gave activist Owen Chow a hug and a pat on his back when he arrived, others chatted briefly before the hearing began.
When the four-hour-long hearing ended, defendants in the dock stood on the benches and moved close to the glass panels to bid farewell. Former district councillor Tiffany Yuen told fellow activist Owen Chow – who is on bail – to write letters back to her, to which Chow responded “I will.”
One detained democrat was heard chanting “Hong Kong come on!” – or literally “add oil” – as another shouted “Happy birthday, mom!”
“Come out together,” one supporter shouted. Others yelled: “Hang in there!”
Lifting of reporting restrictions
The details of the committal proceeding on Monday were subject to a list of reporting restrictions set out in section 87A of the Magistrates Ordinance. Several defendants asked the court to remove the limitations.
The acting chief magistrate decided to adjourn hearing the substantive arguments on the application to January 17.
Earlier this month, local media cited sources as saying that the Department of Justice had sought the court’s approval to postpone Monday’s hearing to next February, saying they needed more time to translate over 10,000 pages of testimony.
But a source close to the matter later told HKFP that the original court date was to stand.
Monday’s hearing was originally scheduled for 2 p.m. but the proceedings did not commence until 3.30 p.m.. After waiting for more than an hour, a male court attendee broke the silence by urging the judiciary staff to explain the postponement. Another woman told the court to offer an explanation, instead of playing an audio announcement on court rules.
“It is disrespectful to those who are attending the hearing,” a woman shouted.
A judiciary staffer warned people not to shout in court. Another clerk said the hearing could not start on time because there were issues with the broadcasting system.
Chants outside court
Outside the courthouse, veteran protester Alexandra “Grandma” Wong chanted slogans ahead of the hearing, including “release the 47 immediately,” and “shame to political prosecution.”
The 14 defendants who received bail began to arrive at the court building an hour before the scheduled start time. Other political figures, including former lawmakers Emily Lau and Fernando Cheung, and Chair of the League of Social Democrats Chan Po-ying were among the people listening in the hearing. Chan is also the wife of one of the 47, Leung Kwok-hung.
Close to 100 people were queuing at the court building, when some defendants entered the building, they shouted “add oil” to the defendants.
The democrats were arrested for allegedly attempting to paralyse the government by trying to win a majority with strategic voting at the Legislative Council. Under the plan, they would make use of their majority at the legislature to veto important government bills, and eventually oust the chief executive within the parameters of the Basic Law.
Additional reporting: Candice Chau.