Some people who queued up to obtain tickets to witness Monday’s national security trial against 47 democrats were suspected of having been paid to do so, according to two democrats and the partner of one of the defendants. Meanwhile, one court goer approached journalists outside the West Kowloon’s courthouse asking where she could pick up payment.

Several people queuing up outside the West Kowloon Law Courts Building after the first day of trial of case against 47 democrats ended on Monday, February 6. File Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Monday marked the first day of the trial against 16 of the 47 democrats charged under the security law over an alleged conspiracy to commit subversion. They stand accused of organising primaries to win the 2020 legislative election in a bid to use constitutional mechanisms to paralyse the government and oust the chief executive. Most have been detained for almost two years and face up to life behind bars if convicted.

Over 200 people queued up outside the West Kowloon Law Courts building in the hope of obtaining a ticket for a seat in the courtroom. However, some in line who were approached HKFP claimed that they did not know which case they were lining up for, with one woman saying that she was there for a case related to Jimmy Lai. The media tycoon was not scheduled to appear in court on Monday.

Chair of the League of Social Democrats (LSD) Chan Po-ying – one of the city’s last remaining active protest groups – urged journalists to investigate rumours of people being paid to queue up for tickets.

“The Bull” Tsang Kin-shing, also from the LSD, said he suspected that some court goers were paid to queue up, and would leave the courthouse after receiving the ticket. HKFP witnessed one group of women obtain tickets shortly before leaving the courthouse.

League of Social Democrats chairperson Chan Po-ying (left) and Tsang “the Bull” Kin-shing outside the West Kowloon Law Courts Building on February 6, 2023. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Emilia Wong, partner of Ventus Lau – one of the defendants who pleaded guilty – also claimed on Facebook on Monday that there were a “large group” of people suspected to be paid to queue up. Some took photos of their tickets and sent them to a messaging group, or handed them to another individual after receiving a docket from Judiciary staff, she claimed.

“It is obvious that someone is trying to stop the general public from observing the case,” Wong’s post read.

WhatsApp coordination groups

At around 4:30pm on Monday, a 79-year-old woman approached a group of journalists, including an HKFP reporter, asking where she could receive payment for queuing up and attending court in the morning.

She told HKFP that she had been queuing up since 7 a.m., and had attended the morning session on Monday until around 11 a.m.

A 79-year-old holding a ticket to the extension court for the trial of the case against 47 democrats on Monday, February 6. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The woman said that she heard “from other people” that the going rate was HK$150, and that she thought she could get HK$450 for her time.

Holding a ticket for the extension court, the woman said she lived at Fu Cheong Estate, a nearby public housing development, and that she came on her own accord after a friend prompted her to attend “as many others were going.”

The national security trial of Hong Kong’s 47 democrats began on Monday, February 6. Photo Kyle LamHKFP.

Claiming that she did not know who organised payments, the elderly woman said she was also not aware that the trial would last for 90 days. She said she feared she would not be paid as she attended of her own volition.

Several other people were queuing outside the courthouse after the hearing wrapped for the day, with at least two checking WhatsApp groups named “February 6.”

One of the groups included messages showing a photo of a court ticket for an extension court, as well as several messages reporting when individuals had left or will “carry on.”

The national security trial of Hong Kong’s 47 democrats began on Monday, February 6. Photo Kyle LamHKFP.

By 7 p.m., a queue of around 20 people formed outside the courthouse, with the hearing set to resume on Tuesday. A man told an HKFP reporter that he did not know what he was lining up for. Others turned their backs to the reporters at the scene and refused to talk.

“Why do I have to tell you?” a woman said after an HKFP reporter asked why she was in line.

Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

WhatsApp conversation on another woman’s phone read: “when are the others coming?”

A WhatsApp conversation which reads: “when are the others coming?” on the phone of a person queuing up outside the West Kowloon Law Courts Building at around 7 p.m. on February 6, 2023. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

According to tickets handed out by the Judiciary, seats left vacant for 15 minutes or more are released to other people.

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HKFP has contact the judiciary for comment.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.