HKFP’s on-the-ground reporting is also appearing in The Guardian.
A number of people who queued for tickets to watch the first day of proceedings in the high-profile national security case involving 47 pro-democracy defendants were seen leaving the court house before the hearing began.
Some of those who were waiting appeared not to know which trial they were queuing for, when questioned by an HKFP reporter, while others were seen taking photos of journalists and other people at the scene.
Monday marked the start of a 90-day trial against 16 pro-democracy figures who pleaded not guilty to taking part in a conspiracy to commit subversion. They stand accused of organising primary elections ahead of the 2020 legislative race, in a bid to win seats, oppose the government and use constitutional mechanisms to oust the chief executive. If convicted, they could face up to life in prison.
Queues formed outside the West Kowloon Law Courts Building in the early hours of Monday for tickets to fill a limited number of public seats. There were 39 seats available for members of the public in the main courtroom, and 367 open for people to watch a live broadcast of the proceedings in court extensions.
An HKFP reporter estimated that were around 200 people in line, but – despite the long line – there were empty seats in the public gallery of the main courtroom.
An HKFP reporter also observed a dozen middle-aged women leaving the court building after getting tickets for the hearing but before the trial began at 10 a.m.
Uncertainty among some court goers
When asked why they were in line, one person waiting outside the court building told HKFP they did not know which court case they were queuing up for. Another said she was there for the case of media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who is prosecuted in a separate national security case and is not among the democrats facing trial on Monday. Others declined to speak.
Local media outlet The Witness reported that some people in line were wearing face masks with “Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau” written on them.
A man wearing a baseball cap, who said he was there alone, collected rubbish from others in the queue, including drinks cartons and a beer can. He also said he did not know which case he was lining up for.
HKFP has asked the Judiciary whether public gallery tickets would be redistributed if recipients had left.
Meanwhile, Robin, a journalism student at the University of Hong Kong told HKFP he wanted to attend the hearing “out of his own interest.”
“I just heard that all the most outspoken activists are here, like Joshua Wong, Gwyneth Ho, and Benny Tai, and all the others, so I just want to come and see what happens there.”
The student, who is from France and is on an exchange programme in Hong Kong, said he had begun following the city’s news since the protests in 2019. He added that he felt young people taking to the streets was “extremely powerful.”
Representatives from foreign consulates, including the UK, the US, Germany, Australia and Italy, also attended the trial.
InMedia asked a middle-aged woman whether she had been instructed to line up. She said that, after taking her morning walk, she saw many people queuing up outside the court building, so joined too.
Separately, a man who was among a group of youngsters said he was “here by himself” but did not answer a question about why he was queueing.
Ahead of the hearing, members of the League of Social Democrats, one of Hong Kong’s last active pro-democracy groups, were pushed away by police when they arrived at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court to protest.
One of the members, Dickson Chau, was fined HK$5,000 after removing his mask for a few seconds, InMedia reported. Wearing a face mask remains mandatory in public spaces, including outdoors, under Hong Kong’s Covid-19 regulations.
16 plead not guilty
Out of the 47 defendants, only 13 are currently on bail. Most of the remaining democrats have been held behind bars for almost two years.
Subversion is an offence under the national security law, which was directly inserted into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. Democrats and activists say the legislation has been used broadly to crack down on political activity, but authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.
The trial will be heard by a panel of three hand-picked national security judges rather than a jury, despite Hong Kong’s common law tradition. The security legislation imposed by Beijing in June 2020 allows cases to be heard by national security judges.
Last August, Secretary for Justice Paul Lam cited the “involvement of foreign elements” in the case, the “personal safety of jurors and their family members” and a “risk of perverting the course of justice” as reasons to depart from the tradition of jury trial.
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