June 18, 2024

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Hong Kong convicts 14 pro-democracy activists in national security case

Hong Kong convicts 14 pro-democracy activists in national security case

HONG KONG (AP) — A Hong Kong court on Thursday convicted 14 pro-democracy activists in the city. The biggest national security issue Under a law imposed by Beijing that eliminated public opposition.

Among those found guilty of conspiracy to commit sabotage are former legislators Leong Kwok Hong, Lam Cheok Ting, Helena Wong and Raymond Chan, who could face life imprisonment when sentenced later. The two defendants who were acquitted were former district council members Li Yu-chun and Lawrence Lau.

They were among 47 democracy defenders who were tried in 2021 for their involvement in the operation Informal primary elections. Prosecutors accused them of trying to paralyze Hong Kong’s government and oust the city’s leader by securing the legislative majority needed to indiscriminately veto budgets.

In a summary of the ruling distributed to the media, the court said that election participants declared that they “either will or will use the power granted by (the Legislative Council) under the (Basic Law) to veto budgets.”

Raymond Chan, a former pro-democracy lawmaker, arrives at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts in Hong Kong, Thursday, May 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Chan Long Hei)

Helena Wong, a former pro-democracy lawmaker, arrives at the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts in Hong Kong, Thursday, May 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Chan Long Hei)

Helena Wong, a former pro-democracy lawmaker, arrives at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts in Hong Kong, Thursday, May 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Chan Long Hei)

Under the Basic Law, the chief executive can dissolve the legislature if the budget is not passed, but the president will have to step down if the budget is vetoed again in the newly formed legislature.

In the full 319-page ruling, the court also said that if the plan to veto the bills were to dissolve the legislature, it would mean that “the implementation of any new government policies would be seriously hampered and essentially halted.”

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“The power and authority of both the government and the chief executive will be substantially undermined,” the court said in the ruling. “In our view…this would create a constitutional crisis in Hong Kong.”

The judges concluded that “unlawful means” are not limited to criminal acts only, and that it is not necessary for the prosecution to prove that the accused knew that the means used were “unlawful.”

The court was adjourned until later Thursday, and Judge Andrew Chan did not provide further details about the court’s reasons.

Lau, who was acquitted, told reporters that he should not be the focus of attention at the moment because the other defendants in the case deserve the public’s attention and love.

He said that if there was any “star” in the case, the ruling should be the “star” because it determined the judges’ reasoning and views. “This is part of our rule of law,” he added.

The court acquitted Lau after finding that he did not mention vetoing the budget in his election campaign and the court was unable to conclude that he intended to undermine state power.

Lee, the other accused who was found innocent, thanked the public for their interest in the case over the past few years. He said he could not say more about the verdict because the prosecution may appeal against his acquittal.

He added: “I feel calm, as always.” In an earlier Facebook post, he said Thursday was a special graduation ceremony for him, even though graduation is usually about sharing happiness with families and friends.

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“Perhaps this best reflects the shared helplessness of our generation,” he said in his letter on Wednesday.

Li Yu-chun, a former pro-democracy district councilor, leaves the West Kowloon magistrates' courts in Hong Kong, Thursday, May 30, 2024. A Hong Kong court on Thursday convicted 14 pro-democracy activists in the city's biggest national security case under a law imposed by Beijing, which eliminated public opposition.  Among those convicted were former legislators Leong Kwok Hung, Lam Cheok Ting, Helena Wong and Raymond Chan.  But the three judges appointed by the government to oversee the case acquitted former district council members Lee and Lawrence Lau.  (AP Photo/Chan Long Hai)

Li Yu-chun, a former pro-democracy district councilor, leaves the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts in Hong Kong, Thursday, May 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Chan Long Hei)

Lee, like Lau, was acquitted after the court found no evidence that he mentioned using his veto at an election forum, nor did he personally express his position on using his veto to force the government to respond to protesters’ demands.

While Lee – then a member of the now-defunct Civic Party – espoused a similar political platform as other party members, the court took into account that he was late in the party’s campaign for the primaries and that he had little choice. Rather, adopting the platform that others use. Hence, the court said in the ruling that it could not be certain that he intended to undermine the authority of the state.

Observers said that the sabotage case illustrates how the security law is used Crushing political opposition after massive anti-government protests in 2019. But the Beijing and Hong Kong governments have insisted that the law has helped restore stability to the city and that the independence of the judiciary is being protected.

When Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, Beijing promised to retain Western-style civil liberties in the city for 50 years. However, since the introduction of the 2020 law, Hong Kong authorities have severely restricted freedom of expression and assembly in the name of maintaining national security. Many activists were arrested, silenced, or forced into self-imposed exile. Dozens of civil society organizations were dissolved.

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Activists tried in the main case included legal scholar Benny Tai, former student leader Joshua Wong, and dozens of former lawmakers including Leung Kwok Hung and Claudia Mo.

Thirty-one of them, including Tay, Wong and Mo, pleaded guilty to the charge against them Conspiracy to commit acts of sabotage. They have a better chance of shorter prison sentences and will be sentenced later.

Sixteen others, including Leung, pleaded not guilty and underwent a non-jury trial. After the verdicts are issued on Thursday, mitigation hearings will be scheduled to determine the sentences of those convicted.

Members of the League of Social Democrats hold a banner outside the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts in Hong Kong, Thursday, May 30, 2024, ahead of the rulings in a national security case.  reads the sign "Exercising constitutional rights is not a crime." (AP Photo/Chan Long Hai)

Members of the League of Social Democrats hold a banner outside the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts in Hong Kong, Thursday, May 30, 2024, ahead of the rulings in a national security case. “Exercising constitutional rights is not a crime,” the sign read. (AP Photo/Chan Long Hai)

On Thursday, before the court hearing, Chan Bo-ying, leader of the pro-democracy League of Social Democrats (LDS), was arrested, along with three other court members, according to a Facebook post by party member Viju Chan. Chan Bo Ying is also the wife of former MP Leong Kwok Hong, one of the defendants convicted on Thursday.

Local media reports, such as the South China Morning Post, said the detainees tried to raise a yellow banner in protest as they walked to the court grounds, but were stopped and escorted away by police.

Diplomats from the United States, Australia and Britain, along with dozens of residents, waited outside the court building, which was guarded by police, to secure seats to hear the rulings.

Former Democratic Party Chairman Emily Lau was among those who attended in support. She told reporters that she felt sad because so many had been detained for more than three years, but she refused to comment on the ruling.

Social worker Stanley Chang, a friend of one of the 16 defendants, said he arrived at the site at 4 a.m. because he feared he would not be able to get a seat. Zhang said there are very few things supporters can do for them, and attending the hearing is a kind of companionship.

“I want to offer some support to my friend and the faces I saw in the news reports,” he said.

Maya Wang, acting China director at Human Rights Watch, said the conviction of 14 people “for their peaceful activism (demonstrates) absolute contempt for both democratic political processes and the rule of law.”

“All Hong Kong people wanted was the opportunity to freely elect their government. Democracy is not a crime, no matter what the Chinese government and its chosen court in Hong Kong may say,” Wang added.

Sarah Brooks of the rights group Amnesty International called the mass convictions “unprecedented” and said they were “the most severe example yet of how Hong Kong’s national security law has been used as a weapon to silence dissent.”

“These convictions also send a chilling message to anyone else in Hong Kong who opposes the government’s actions: ‘Stay calm, or face jail,'” she added.

The aim of the unofficial primaries in June 2020 was to draw up a shortlist of pro-democracy candidates who would then run in the official elections. It attracted an unexpectedly high turnout of 610,000 voters, more than 13% of the city’s registered voters.

The pro-democracy camp at the time was hoping for a legislative majority, allowing them to push for the demands of the 2019 protest, including greater police accountability and democratic elections for city leader.

But the government postponed the legislative elections that would have followed the primaries, citing public health risks during the coronavirus pandemic. the Electoral laws were later reformed. Significantly reducing the public’s ability to vote and increasing the number of pro-Beijing lawmakers in the Legislative Council.

Beijing also criticized the vote as a challenge to the security law, which criminalizes secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces to interfere in the city’s affairs, as well as terrorism.