Hong Kong former lawmaker Au Nok-hin has walked back a statement made a day earlier, when he told the court trying the city’s largest national security case that he felt co-defendant Benny Tai had “hijacked” opposition voices.

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

Testifying on Friday as the trial entered its 27th day, Au – who has pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit subversion and is acting as a prosecution witness – told the court he had “something to add” shortly after the hearing began.

“Yesterday, the defence lawyer asked me if [Tai] was hijacking. I should not use the term ‘hijacking’,” Au said, “after all, I… do not want to hurt Benny Tai.”

Both Au and Tai are among the 47 democrats – among them ex-lawmakers and district councillors – who have been charged with conspiracy to commit subversion over their roles in unofficial primary elections.

The primary elections, held in July 2020, were meant to help the pro-democracy camp identify their preferred candidates ahead of the Legislative Council election, which was later postponed due to Covid-19.

Andrew Chiu, Au Nok-hin and Benny Tai in 2020. Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

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.

During Thursday’s hearing, Au said Tai had not given due regard to the views expressed by other candidates.

When barrister David Ma – representing defendant and ex-lawmaker Raymond Chan – suggested that Tai had “hijacked some of the opposing views” voiced in the meetings, Au agreed.

A former law professor at the University of Hong Kong, Tai was one of the leaders of the Umbrella Movement in 2014 and is a well-known pro-democracy activist in the city. He has also pleaded guilty to his subversion charge.

Benny Tai. File photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Most of the 47 defendants – including Au and Tai – have been detained since March 2021, when they were denied bail after a marathon four-day hearing. At present, 13 are out on bail. The defendants, who are being tried by a trio of national security judges without a jury in a departure from Hong Kong’s common law system, face up to life if convicted.

On Wednesday, Au said that he and Tai were the “primary movers” of the plan. Au said Tai “was responsible for a very large part” of the primaries, while he was largely responsible for their “execution.”

‘Final fantasy’

Ma continued his third day of cross-examining Au on Friday. He brought up an interview with Au published by the defunct Apple Daily newspaper.

Hong Kong Legislative Council. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

In the interview, Au said he believed there were two types of people: those who “supported the idea of mutual destruction,” or what the prosecution have referred to as Tai’s “grand strategy of rebellion,” where indiscriminate vetoing of the budget would bring the city to a standstill and spark a bloody street rebellion.

The other group consisted of those who were “trying to attain a majority in the Legislative Council so as to increase their bargaining power.”

Asked if his client, Chan, belonged in the former group, Au said: “Putting it fairly, based on his past work, I would categorise him as such.”

Ma also pointed to an Apple Daily editorial written by Tai called “Ten steps to real mutual destruction – the inevitable fate of Hong Kong,” a piece that was shown in court during the first week of the trial.

Hong Kong lawmakers from the pro-democracy camp. Photo: Kenneth Leung, via Facebook.

The steps envision the pro-democracy camp coming up with “plan B” and “plan C” candidates to fill the places of lawmakers who would inevitably be disqualified, each time securing a majority, ultimately causing a government shutdown and prompting Beijing to declare a state of emergency in Hong Kong.

Asked if Au believed this was a “blueprint” for what Tai had in mind, the ex-lawmaker said he would describe them as Tai’s “crazy thoughts.”

“I say that because they are very unrealistic forecasts,” he said.

“That was his fantasy, do you agree with me?” Ma asked.

“To me, these really are crazy thoughts, so it’s fantasy… a final fantasy,” Au said, triggering laughter from the defendants.

The trial will continue on Monday.

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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.