A cross-party group of 54 British parliamentarians and public figures have urged UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverley to call for the release of detained democrat Claudia Mo, whose husband – journalist Philip Bowring – is unwell with pneumonia.

Claudia Mo.
Claudia Mo. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“Given that her husband and her children are UK citizens and Claudia previously held UK citizenship, we believe the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office has a special responsibility for her welfare and to champion her release,” the letter – dated last Friday – to Cleverley read.

Mo – who has already been detained for more than two years – is facing up to life in prison under the security law for her participation in unofficial primary elections in 2020.

When approached by HKFP, the Department of Justice said on Wednesday that it would not comment on individual cases.

Signatories to the letter included the last colonial leader of Hong Kong Chris Patten, ex-UK foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind, Lord Alton of Liverpool, and MPs Iain Duncan Smith, Fiona Bruce, Sarah Champion, and Alistair Carmichael.

“On the two-year anniversary of the arrests of the 47 democrats and their ongoing trial, we hope that the Foreign Secretary will listen to this eminent, cross-party, and bicameral group of parliamentarians and push for the release of Claudia Mo on compassionate grounds so she can visit her husband who is in the ICU,” the letter read.

“Furthermore, the FCDO [Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office] must do more to take responsibility for those political prisoners in Hong Kong with direct links to the UK, whether that is through family members, previously held citizenship, or British National Overseas status,” it added.

Philip Bowring.
Philip Bowring. File photo: HKU JMSC.

Citing sources, Ming Pao reported on Friday that Mo’s husband had been released from the intensive care unit.

Guilty plea

In 2021, Mo was among 47 prominent democrats 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, forcing the chief executive’s resignation and a government shutdown.

Mo earlier pleaded guilty to the charge.

  • 47 democrats pleaded not guilty 1
  • 47 democrats pleaded not guilty 2
  • 47 democrats pleaded guilty 1
  • 47 democrats pleaded guilty 4
  • 47 democrats pleaded guilty 2
  • 47 democrats pleaded guilty 3
  • Prosecution witnesses 47 democrats post

Critics say the case is a political prosecution exemplifying a crackdown on dissent, whilst the government has claimed the 47 sought to “organise, plan, implement, or participate in” subversion. The scholars, lawmakers, activists and a journalist are facing three hand-picked judges, with no jury, and could be jailed for life.

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

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Tom Grundy

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.