A Hong Kong court has adjourned its decision on a bail application made by pro-democracy activist Gordon Ng, who has been detained for more than 18 months pending trial in the city’s largest national security case.
Ng applied for bail before High Court judge Andrew Chan on Friday, around two months after a magistrate conducted a closed-door preliminary hearing and ruled that there was sufficient evidence to commit the activist for trial in a higher court on suspicion of conspiracy to commit subversion. Ng, who had no legal representative, also asked Chan to lift reporting restrictions on the bail hearing.
The activist, better known under the pseudonym “Lee Bak Lou” on popular forum LIHKG, is among 18 pro-democracy figures who have denied playing a part in an alleged conspiracy involving 47 well-known politicians and activists that revolves around unofficial legislative primary polls held in July 2020.
The primaries aimed to help the pro-democracy camp select candidates for an upcoming Legislative Council election and secure a majority in the legislature. The democrats were said to have intended to abuse their powers as lawmakers to veto budget bills, paralyse government operations and eventually force the chief executive to resign if they were successful.
So far, 29 defendants have pleaded guilty to the charge and are set to be sentenced at the High Court, where life imprisonment is the maximum penalty. Ng and 17 others are expected to stand trial before a three-judge panel, but a trial date has yet to be fixed.
Friday’s hearing marked the first time Ng sought bail after his initial application was rejected last year. He is among more than 30 democrats who have been held in custody since they were first brought to court in March last year. Their bail applications were denied on national security grounds following a four-day marathon hearing. Only 13 of the 47 defendants are currently on bail.
Under court reporting restrictions on bail proceedings, written and broadcast reports are limited to only include the result of a bail application, the name of the person applying for bail and their representation, and the offence concerned.
Justice Chan said on Friday that he needed more time to consider a court ruling cited by Ng in his application for removing limitations on news reports. The court will decide on Ng’s bail application next Wednesday.
Ng has been named by the prosecution as one of the co-organisers and coordinators of the primaries and was said to have “publicly propagandised” the unofficial polls. While he did not enter the race, the prosecution said in a committal hearing in June that he started a campaign known as “Say No to Primary Dodgers,” which aimed to ensure that those who ran in the primaries would act in accordance with the scheme.
The activist was said to have called on voters to only cast their ballots on primaries candidates who undertook whether to run in the official election based on the result of the primaries.
Ng also promoted his campaign by placing advertisements in defunct newspaper Apple Daily and on his social media platforms, prosecutors alleged.
Ng was the only defendant who elected to have a preliminary inquiry after indicating his intention to plead not guilty. The proceeding required Principal Magistrate Peter Law to determine whether there was enough evidence to put Ng on trial in the higher court. Law eventually committed him for trial in the High Court.
Ng is set to appear in court again on November 8 for a case management hearing along with 16 other democrats, according to the court diary.
The trial date of the high-profile case has not been scheduled yet, but Secretary for Justice Paul Lam has ordered the group to be tried without a jury. He cited the alleged “involvement of foreign elements” as a reason to depart from the common law tradition, as well as concerns over “personal safety of jurors and their family members” and a “risk of perverting the course of justice” if the trial is conducted with a jury.
Under the Beijing-imposed security legislation, a “principal offender” in a subversion offence of a “grave nature” could be sentenced to life behind bars, or a fixed-term imprisonment of not less than 10 years. Those who “actively participate” in the offence would be jailed for between three and 10 years, while other participants shall face a fixed-term imprisonment of not more than three years, short-term detention or restriction.