Two defendants in Hong Kong’s landmark national security case involving 47 democrats are set to return to court next month. The court is expected to hear the case against the pair, who changed their plea to guilty ahead of the trial, local media reported.

Mike Lam 47 democrats
Mike Lam. File photo: Lea Mok/HKFP

Former district councillor Ng Kin-wai and businessman Mike Lam, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit subversion, are scheduled to appear in court on October 5, the court diary on the Judiciary’s website showed. The hearing is expected to take four days.

The trial, which began in February and is being held before three hand-picked national security judges, was adjourned last month for the prosecution and defence to prepare closing arguments.

Ng and Lam were among 47 pro-democracy figures charged under the Beijing-imposed national security law over an unofficial legislative primary poll held in July 2021. Both originally said they would plead not guilty, but changed their decision before the trial started.

Prosecutors alleged that the election that the case centres around aimed to help the opposition camp win majority control of the then-70-seat legislature, that it was part of a plan to subvert state power.

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The democrats had intended to abuse their legislative powers to indiscriminately veto bills, forcing the chief executive’s resignation and a government shutdown, the prosecution said.

Legal scholar Benny Tai and prominent activist Joshua Wong were among 29 defendants who indicated their intention to plead guilty in August last year. The offence is punishable by up to life imprisonment.

Ng, who originally indicated he would deny the charge in a committal hearing at a lower court, informed the High Court last November that he would enter a guilty plea instead. Lam, the founder of retail chain AbouThai, also told the court he would change his plea in mid-January, a few weeks before the lengthy trial began in early February. He also became a prosecution witness and gave testimony against the other democrats.

Local media reported on Tuesday that next month’s hearing will see arguments concerning the allegations against Ng and Lam.

Ng Kin-wai
Ng Kin-wai. File photo: Ng Kin-wai, via Facebook.

Last month, the high-profile was adjourned to November 27 after 16 democrats and their legal representatives sat in court for 115 days. The adjournment came after the defence finished making their case and the court decided to give both parties time to prepare their closing submissions.

Most of the defendants have been detained since a marathon bail hearing in March 2021, with 13 currently out on bail, including Lam.

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.

Correction 27/9/2023: An earlier version of this article misstated the date Ng Kin-wai and Mike Lam were next expected in court. It should be October 5. We regret the error.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.