The high-profile national security case involving a number pro-democracy figures has largely been transferred to Hong Kong’s High Court, with 44 defendants committed to the Court of First Instance for trial or sentencing. Dozens of defendants have spent more than a year behind bars as committal proceedings were repeatedly adjourned.
Principal Magistrate Peter Law on Monday moved 27 democrats to the High Court, where they could face up to life in prison over an alleged conspiracy to commit subversion in connection with an unofficial legislative primary election held in July 2020. Committal proceedings began last July and were adjourned numerous times in the months since.
The accused included former law professor Benny Tai, prominent activist Joshua Wong, former lawmakers, ex-district councillors and other activists, who organised and participated in the primary with the aim of gaining a controlling majority in the legislature.
They were said to have intended to abuse their powers as lawmakers, if elected, to indiscriminately veto budgets, paralyse government operations and ultimately force the chief executive to resign.
Law was set to commit 30 defendants on Monday, but the designated national security judge has yet to transfer former district councillor Tiffany Yuen, Carol Ng who chaired the defunct Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, and activist Gordon Ng, better known under the pseudonym “Lee Bak Lou” on popular forum LIHKG.
Seventeen democrats were committed last week. The court originally set aside last Wednesday and Thursday to handle the final stages of the transfer, but the hearing was extended to Monday after more time was needed to complete the procedure.
It took the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts close to 11 months to officially hand over the subversion case to the Court of First Instance of the High Court.
Reporting restrictions surrounding committal proceedings – whereby a magistrate determines whether there is enough evidence for case to be transferred to the Court of First Instance of the High Court for trial or sentence – mean that written and broadcast reports are limited to including only the name of the defendants, magistrates, and lawyers, the alleged offence, the court’s decision, whether legal aid was granted, and future court dates.
Subversion is outlawed under the Beijing-imposed national security law which came into force on June 30, 2020. The sweeping legislation also targets secession, foreign collusion and terrorist acts. As of late May, 186 persons have been arrested for committing acts and engaging in activities endangering national security, according to the Security Bureau.
The 47 democrats’ case was first heard in March last year, when the defendants sat through a marathon four-day bail hearing. At present, only 13 democrats are on bail awaiting trial, while many have been detained for more than 15 months. Some are also serving prison terms for offences linked to the 2019 protests against the extradition bill.
Before Monday’s hearing began, the defendants waved to family and friends in the courtroom as they were led into the dock by corrections officers and police officers. Some mouthed words, while others communicated with people in the public gallery with hand gestures.
Court attendees included former legislator Shiu Ka-chun and activist Raphael Wong, who was recently released from prison after serving a sentence over offences linked to the unrest in 2019.
Senior counsels Gladys Li and Nigel Kat and barristers Margaret Ng and David Ma were among the defendants’ legal representatives. Some defendants appeared in person, including Gordon Ng and activist Ventus Lau, who helped organise rallies during the extradition bill protests.
The case will resume on Tuesday morning when Law is set to handle the transfer of Tiffany Yuen, Carol Ng and Gordon Ng. The court will also hear legal disputes arising from the case on July 25, which will not affect the result of the committal proceedings.