Evidence of people being paid to to queue for tickets to witness a high-profile national security trial involving 47 Hong Kong democrats has emerged after reporters from InMedia were paid HK$800 to spend the night outside the West Kowloon Law Courts Building.
Arrangements appeared to be coordinated by a man with links to a pro-establishment group, the Hong Kong outlet reported.
Long queues have formed outside the court since the 90-day trial of 16 prominent pro-democracy activists who pleaded not guilty to conspiring to commit subversion over their roles in an unofficial primary election in 2020 began last Monday. A number of pro-democracy figures have expressed suspicions that some were being paid to queue up for tickets to witness the trial after several people who waited were seen leaving before hearings even started.
HKFP reporters saw a group of people handling money at a nearby restaurant after leaving court early last Tuesday.
InMedia reported on Tuesday that their reporters had answered a job advertisement calling for people to queue outside the court in Cheung Sha Wan and each been paid HK$800 for spending Monday night in line.
The reporters spotted the ad on Monday in a group for odd jobs. “Queuing at the West Kowloon courts from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m., HK$800 for getting the tickets only and nothing else,” the ad read.
After applying, they were added to a WhatsApp group with a total of nine members and two administrators: “Andy Fan” and “Ah Hin.”
The reporters later obtained a business card from Fan, which said he was a Star Professional Confederation Young Entrepreneur.
The website listed on the business card linked to an organisation named S.P.C.CARE, which was founded in 2014 with the aim to “carry through the One Country, Two Systems development policy of the People’s Republic of China and support the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s governance in accordance with the law.”
The InMedia reporters saw Fan join the queue outside the court building on Tuesday morning. He also gave instructions to the WhatsApp group and was the one who paid people after.
InMedia said it had tried to contact Fan on the phone number printed on his business card.
After realising he was talking to a reporter, the person who picked up told InMedia he was “working” and said to call back later before hanging up. Reporters tried to call the number again but no one picked up.
Wary of police
According to InMedia, Fan gave up waiting for his own court ticket on Tuesday morning and told members of the WhatsApp group he needed to discuss with a superior how to deal with the police.
“Lately the police have been stepping up checks, so I have to leave the queue now and chat with the boss,” Fan said.
The other administrator, Ah Hin, told the members to delete the group chat. “I’m afraid the CID [police] will check your phones. If they do, tell them you can’t let them check due to privacy problems,” Ah Hin wrote.
The administrators also removed the words “West Kowloon” from the group name.
After the InMedia reporters got public gallery tickets for the day, the two group leaders told them to enter the court building and undergo security checks before leaving, as “there seem to be more plain clothes officers today.”
Members of the group were also reminded not to hold tickets in their hands when leaving to avoid being seen by the police or journalists.
Multiple groups suspected
While queuing overnight, the reporters observed other suspected paid court goers.
A woman who gave her name as Judy said she had arrived at 6:30 p.m. on Monday and occupied several spaces in the queue with cardboard.
The reporters also heard a man on a phone call saying that he was queuing for others.
“Yeah, some HK$1,000 for some ten hours of queuing, I am queuing for you now. How many of you will be here tomorrow morning? I am free and can help find more,” the man was heard saying.
In 2021, 47 prominent democrats were arrested and charged under the security law with “conspiracy to commit subversion,” after they organised primaries in a bid to win the 2020 legislative election. They are accused of planning to use legislative powers to indiscriminately veto bills, whilst forcing the chief executive’s resignation and a government shutdown. Most have been detained for almost two years awaiting trial.
Sixteen pleaded not guilty with the remaining 31 pleading guilty – of those, four are acting as witnesses for the prosecution against their peers during the 90-day trial. Critics say the case is a political prosecution exemplifying the crackdown on dissent, while the government has claimed the 47 sought to “organise, plan, implement, or participate in” subversion. The scholars, lawmakers, activists and a journalist face three hand-picked judges, with no jury, and could be jailed for life.
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