It was unrealistic to expect Hong Kong’s government to accept a list of five demands raised by protesters during the 2019 unrest, former pro-democracy lawmaker Au Nok-hin told a court as he continued his testimony for the prosecution at the city’s largest national security trial.

Ex-lawmaker Au Nok-hin. Photo: Au Nok-hin, via Facebook.

Au’s comment came as the non-jury trial of 16 defendants – who pleaded not guilty to conspiring to commit subversion – entered its 26th day on Thursday. The democrats, among them former lawmakers, district councillors and activists, were charged over their participation in an unofficial primary election held in July 2020.

Au, who is acting as a witness for the prosecution, earlier pleaded guilty to the charge.

Appearing at West Kowloon Law Courts Building, barrister David Ma – representing defendant Raymond Chan – brought the court’s attention to the “five demands, not one less” slogan, a popular refrain during the protests in 2019 that were sparked by a controversial extradition bill.

The five demands were for the government to withdraw the bill, set up an independent inquiry into accusations of excessive police use of force, scrap its designation of the protests as a riot, release all those arrested and implement “double universal suffrage” for the Legislative Council and Chief Executive elections.

A protest in 2019. Photo: May James/HKFP.

“Do you agree that some… people would accept [it] if one or two of the five demands were responded to?” Ma asked.

Au, who was one of the organisers of the primary election, said he “did not rule out that there was such thinking in society.”

Asked about the possibility of the government acting on all the five demands, the ex-lawmaker replied: “On political grounds, the five demands are not realistic… I think the government would not accept the contents of the five demands.”

When Judge Alex Chan asked if it were “more likely to be a deadlock,” Au agreed.

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The national security trial began in February, after most defendants had already spent almost two years in detention since being denied bail in March 2021.

It centres on a primary election held in July 2020 which the democrats used to pick preferred candidates for Legislative Council elections meant to be held that year. The elections, however, were postponed due to Covid-19.

The democrats are accused of planning to use legislative powers, had they been elected and won a majority, to indiscriminately veto bills and thus force the chief executive’s resignation and a government shutdown.

They face up to life in prison if convicted.

People lining up to vote in the primary election held in July 2020. File Photo: Studio Incendo.

Au is the first to take the witness stand against his fellow defendants. After him, three other defendants – ex-district councillors Andrew Chiu and Ben Chung, as well as Mike Lam, the founder of retail chain AbouThai – known to have a pro-democracy stance – will testify for the prosecution.

‘Hijacking’ opposition voices

During Thursday’s trial, Au said former law professor Benny Tai had not given due regard to the views expressed by other candidates. Along with Au, Tai was one of the organisers of the primary.

Ma showed the court a document sent by Tai to candidates after the second meeting for the New Territories East geographic constituency – one of the five constituencies of the primary – stating they “would use” their powers under the Basic Law to veto bills in the Legislative Council.

Other documents had used the wording “would actively use,” a phrase that Au had said implied more flexibility.

Benny Tai in a demonstration held on January 1, 2019. Photo: Etan Liam, via Flickr.

Au said he “could not explain” why the word “actively” was not used in that New Territories East document.

When Ma suggested that Tai had “hijacked some of the opposing views” voiced in the meetings, Au agreed.

In Wednesday’s hearing, Au admitted that he and Tai were the “primary movers” of the plan. But between the two of them, Au implied that Tai was the “brain” while he himself was more responsible for the “execution.”

Ray Chan’s absence from meetings

As the representative of ex-lawmaker Raymond Chan, Ma also put forth questions to Au that were related to his client.

Au confirmed that his former colleague, who was running in the New Territories East constituency, did not attend either of the coordination meetings organised for candidates. He sent his legislative assistant instead.

Defendant Ray Chan photographed on June 1, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

In a WhatsApp group for candidates running in the constituency, it was also revealed that Chan only sent two messages to the group – one reading “thx” in response to something Au had said, and another a link to a government press release.

During Wednesday’s cross-examination, Au said he agreed that he regarded – and continued to regard – Chan as a personal friend, with whom he shared meals and played the mobile app Pokémon Go.

He added that Chan, known as Hong Kong’s first openly gay lawmaker and a vocal advocate of LGBT+ rights, was a “rational” and “friendly person.”

Chan was held in custody for over half a year before being released on bail in September 2021. He is among the minority granted bail, subject to restrictions including curfews and a ban on media interviews.

Most of the defendants — 34 out of 47 — have been detained for over two years. The trial continues on Friday.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.