A Hong Kong judge has said it was “not right” to keep adjourning the case of Hong Kong activist Andy Li and paralegal Chan Tsz-wah, who have been in custody for more than eight months after pleading guilty to colluding with foreign forces under the national security law.

High Court
High Court. File photo: GovHK.

High Court Judge Alex Lee on Tuesday agreed to the prosecution’s request to postpone the sentencing of Li and Chan for at least three months while they wait for the case of their co-defendant – pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai – to be committed to the High Court. Li and Chan may have to wait for Lai’s sentencing before being sentenced themselves.

Defence counsels Alain Sham for Li and Robert Lee for Chan did not object to the adjournment, but they urged the court to ensure the case could be handled speedily. Lee said he agreed with the defence.

“A prolonged adjournment is not right,” he said.

Last August, Li and Chan pleaded guilty to taking part in a conspiracy with Lai to ask external forces to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China between July 2020 and February 2021. Other people involved in the alleged offence included Lai’s aide Mark Simon and self-exiled activist Finn Lau.

High Court Andy Li police vehicle
Police vans and motorcycles parked outside the High Court on May 3, 2022, when Hong Kong activist Andy Li and paralegal Chan Tsz-wah were brought to the courthouse in Admiralty for a mention. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Lai, the founder of the defunct tabloid Apple Daily, is scheduled to return to the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts for committal proceedings on May 17. According to Acting Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Ivan Cheung, the Department of Justice was ready to transfer Lai’s case to the High Court, where the maximum penalty is life imprisonment.

Cheung estimated the trial would last for around 20 days and may only begin at the end of this year or in early 2023. In response, Lee said a three-month adjournment for Li and Chan might not be sufficient and decided to postpone the case to September 16 for mention instead.

“Adjourning it for three months would not be of much use… the situation may be clearer in four months, then we can have a date,” the judge said.

National security judge Alex Lee.
National security judge Alex Lee. Photo: Judiciary.

Dressed in a white shirt, Li smiled at the court attendees in the public gallery, while his mother made a subtle heart gesture with her fingers to her son in the dock. Chan wore a dark grey blazer and a white shirt and did not interact much with people in the courtroom. His wife was among those attending the hearing.

Activist Li made his first court appearance in April last year after serving seven months in a Shenzhen prison for illegally crossing the border with mainland China. He was one of the 12 Hongkongers captured by Chinese coastguards in August 2020 while trying to flee to Taiwan in a speedboat. Most of them were facing protest-related charges in Hong Kong.

According to the admitted facts of the case, Lai was the “mastermind” behind the conspiracy and provided “substantial financial support” to an international propaganda campaign that sought intervention from foreign countries over alleged police brutality during the 2019 protests and unrest.

The campaign later morphed into a call for foreign sanctions on Hong Kong and China, which is an offence under the Beijing-imposed security legislation that came into force on June 30, 2020. The national security law also criminalised subversion, secession and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure.

The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.