Hong Kong activist Andy Li and paralegal Chan Tsz-wah will spend at least five more months in custody pending sentencing under the national security law. The case was adjourned to wait for their co-defendant – pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai – to be committed to the High Court for trial over an alleged conspiracy to call for sanctions against Hong Kong and China.
Li and Chan appeared before High Court Judge Alex Lee on Monday morning, more than four months after they became the first people in Hong Kong to plead guilty under the Beijing-imposed security legislation in August last year.
The pair admitted to conniving with the Apple Daily founder and his aide Mark Simon, as well as self-exiled activist Finn Lau between July 2020 and February 15, 2021 to run a global campaign to request external forces to impose sanctions on Hong Kong or China.
During Monday’s hearing, Acting Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Anthony Chau suggested adjourning the case to May because Lai – who is currently jailed over other protest-related offences – is still in waiting for his case to be transferred from the magistrates’ court to the High Court.
Chau said the 74-year-old media mogul is set to appear in court again for his fourth return day on February 24 alongside six former senior staff members of Next Digital and the now-defunct Apple Daily, as well as three subsidiaries of his media corporation.
He said the prosecution was ready to commit the case to the higher court and estimated that the trial may take place at the end of 2022, subject to the court’s diary.
Judge Lee expressed concerns about further adjournments, saying Li and Chan should be sentenced as soon as possible as they already admitted guilt: “[We have to] have a limit on the number of adjournments.”
Representatives of both Li and Chan said they had no objection to the adjournment. But Senior Counsel Robert Lee, speaking on behalf of Chan, agreed with the court that it was “undesirable” to keep adjourning the case. Barrister Alain Sham for activist Li, on the other hand, also said it was not desirable to “wait endlessly.”
Both lawyers who had worked as the city’s deputy director of public prosecutions said they preferred to “wait and see” about the result of Lai’s committal proceeding next month before deciding how to proceed with their clients’ case.
Lee decided to hear from the prosecution and the defence again on May 3, when they will determine whether to adjourn Li and Chan’s sentencing to after Lai’s trial or handle it as soon as possible.
Under the national security law, those convicted of colluding with foreign forces could face up to life in prison. The law – enacted in June 2020 – also criminalises secession, subversion and terrorism.
Dressed in a white shirt, Li sat in the dock and nodded as he exchanged words with his representative Sham before the hearing. Chan, on the other hand, wore a dark grey suit and a white shirt. He waved at some of his friends and supporters who chanted “take care” as the defendants were led away by corrections officers.