Hong Kong prosecutors have alleged that former lawmaker Dennis Kwok was a “co-conspirator” in the city’s largest national security case against 47 pro-democracy figures.

Dennis Kwok
Dennis Kwok. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Prosecutor Jonathan Man Tak-ho referred to a press conference held by the Civic Party, the pro-democracy party that Kwok was a founding member of, when naming him in court on Wednesday.

Now based in the US, Kwok, a barrister, announced two years ago that he had left Hong Kong with his family. In 2020, he was among four pro-democracy lawmakers ousted from the Legislative Council, an incident that triggered a mass resignation from the opposition.

He was not known to have taken part in the primary elections in July 2020, around which the high-profile national security trial centres. The aim of the primaries, held after the pro-democracy camp’s landslide victory in the district council elections the year before, was to try and employ strategic voting to help democrats win a majority in the legislature.

The 47 democrats charged with conspiring to commit subversion were allegedly planning to use legislative powers – had they achieved their goal – to indiscriminately veto bills and thus force the chief executive’s resignation and a government shutdown.

Kwok is the latest co-conspirator to be named by the prosecution. Earlier, it was alleged that former district councillor Choy Chak-hung and ex-chief officer of pro-democracy group Power for Democracy Luke Lai were co-conspirators in the case.

democrats pro democracy 35+ legco legislative council primary election 2020 september au nok hin andrew chiu benny tai
Organisers of the primary elections at a press conference on June 9, 2020. Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

The co-conspirator rule allows for statements made outside court by an alleged co-conspirator to another to be admitted as evidence against all involved.

The trial against the 16 democrats who pleaded not guilty to the subversion charge is taking place before three handpicked national security judges and no jury, signalling a departure from Hong Kong’s common law legal system. The 29 who have pleaded guilty will be sentenced after the 90-day trial has concluded. All of the defendants face up to life imprisonment.

Defence begins cross examination

The trial entered its 41st day on Wednesday as the defence started its cross examination of Andrew Chiu, one of the defendants who became a witness for the prosecution.

The former district councillor was the convener of Power for Democracy, the group that assisted in organising the primary elections.

Barrister Anson Wong, representing ex-district councillor Tat Cheng and ex-lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, pressed Chiu on his WhatsApp exchanges with other democrats leading up to the primaries.

andrew chiu
Ex-district councillor Andrew Chiu. Photo: Andrew Chiu, via Facebook.

In one message, Chiu told Lai, whom he had appointed to attend meetings on his behalf, to keep an ear out for how Benny Tai – a fellow defendant and organiser of the primaries – referred to Power for Democracy’s role in the project as he often “makes a mess of things.”

After Wong, barrister Randy Shek began cross examining Chiu. Shek was representing activist Gordon Ng, who has been identified as one of the organisers of the polls, and the former chair of a hospital workers’ union Winnie Yu.

Gordon Ng
Pro-democracy activist Gordon Ng, better known as “Lee Bak Lou.” File photo: Legco Petition YouTube screenshot.

Chiu confirmed that Ng was not in any of the WhatsApp groups that have been looked at during the trial, and was not involved in drawing up the primaries nomination forms.

Wong also pulled up a front-page Apple Daily advertisement for the “say no to primary dodgers” campaign, which called on voters not to cast their ballots for three types of candidates: those who were opposed to the unofficial primaries, those who did not join the primaries, and those who refused to abide by the results of the primaries.

A WhatsApp group conversation displayed in court showed defendant Mike Lam, the founder of the AbouThai chain, saying that the content of the ad was “problematic.”

In the same conversation, Tai said the advertisement had been “made by a civil organisation” and had “no direct relationship with the primaries.”

Responding to Shek, Chiu said that Tai was referring to Ng’s organisation. He added that he only came to know of the advertisement when it was shared in the WhatsApp group.

National security
A national security billboard. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Earlier this month, former lawmaker Au Nok-hin – who took the stand as the first prosecution witness – said he never treated Ng as one of the organisers of the primary, contradicting the prosecution’s case that Ng played a key role in “planning, organising and advancing” the alleged conspiracy.

Two more defendants who are testifying for the prosecution, Lam and ex-district councillor Ben Chung, will take the stand after Chiu.

The 47 democrats case is the largest trial under Beijing’s national security law, which bypassed local legislature and came into effect in June 2020 following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts.

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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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.