US senator for Idaho Jim Risch has called Hong Kong’s controversial 47 democrats trial a “sham” and a “charade,” prompting the local government to hit back saying it “strongly disapproved and firmly rejected the scandalising of the criminal justice process.”

Jim Risch
U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member, Senator Jim Risch. Photo: US Gov’t, Kyle Lam/HKFP.

On the first day of the trial on Monday, the senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member criticised the national security trial in a tweet: “This charade illustrates #China’s destruction of the rule of law and how afraid it is of different opinions. The U.S. will continue to support these freedom fighters.”

In response, the government said in a press release on Wednesday that the defendants would get a fair trial. “The courts decide cases strictly in accordance with the evidence and all applicable laws,” a spokesperson said. “Cases will never be handled any differently owing to the profession, political beliefs or background of the persons involved.”

The spokesperson added that groups and members of US congress should not undermine or “interfere” with the city’s rule of law.

Contrary to Hong Kong’s common law tradition, the scholars, ex-lawmakers, activists and a journalist are facing a non-jury trial and face a maximum penalty of life in prison. The security legislation allows cases to be heard by hand-picked judges.

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The 47 pro-democracy figures were charged with “conspiracy to commit subversion” in 2021. They stand accused of organising primaries in a bid to secure a controlling majority in the 2020 legislative election and use constitutional mechanisms to oppose government policy and force the chief executive’s resignation. Most have been detained for almost two years awaiting trial.

Beijing defends trial

The trial also attracted criticism from Hong Kong’s last colonial governor Chris Patten. “The Communist Party in Beijing, through its willing collaborators in Hong Kong, continues step-by-step to purge leaders or supporters of democracy and the rule of law in Hong Kong,” Patten wrote in a statement.

“I hope the world will continue to watch what is happening and take it to heart when considering how to treat Communist China in the weeks and months ahead,” he continued.

Amnesty International’s deputy regional director Hana Young urged the authorities to drop charges against the 47. “With this mass trial, the Hong Kong government is attempting to shut off all meaningful political participation in Hong Kong,” she said, according to Washington Post.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong also claimed US politicians were interfering in the city’s “normal judicial system.”

Foreign consulates 47 democrats
Representatives from foreign consulates attend the trial of Hong Kong’s 47 democrats on February 6, 2023. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

“We urge Western politicians to put themselves in the right position, recognise the reality, earnestly respect the spirit of the rule of law, and immediately stop interfering in and damaging the judicial system of Hong Kong,” the spokesperson said, according to state-backed tabloid Global Times.

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Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.