Cases of 47 Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Figures May Move to High Court, With Possible Life Sentence

Cases of 47 Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Figures May Move to High Court, With Possible Life Sentence
People show their support for the 47 pro-democracy opposition figures outside of the West Kowloon court building in Hong Kong on May 31, 2021. (Sung Pi-lung/The Epoch Times)

The 47 Hong Kong pro-democracy opposition figures, who were charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under the city’s draconian national security law, may have their cases moved to a higher court where they could face heavier sentences.

At the West Kowloon court building on May 31, Judge Victor So ruled that the court case will resume on July 8, with the possibility that the case will be transferred to the High Court. The judge also rejected the bail application of one of the defendants—former district counselor Tiffany Yuen.

Charges against the activists under the national security law that Beijing imposed last year are punishable with life in prison.

The 47 opposition figures were arrested and charged in late February and only 11 of them were subsequently granted bail. The remaining 36, including Yuen, had been held in custody for three months before the Monday court session. The 11 included Helen Wong, a former Hong Kong lawmaker.

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A woman holds up a paper with the words #Save47 outside of the West Kowloon court building in Hong Kong on May 31, 2021. (Sung Pi-lung/The Epoch Times)

On Monday, Wong left the court building without speaking to reporters. Before leaving, she waved to supporters, who shouted “Hongkongers, add oil,” a phrase that means “keep it up” in Chinese.

Aside from Yuen and Wong, others accused of subversion include former lawmakers Claudia Mo, Leung Kwok-hung, and Alvin Yeung.

Shortly after the court session on Monday, Benedict Rogers, co-founder and chief executive of London-based NGO Hong Kong Watch, and Samuel Chu, managing director of the Washington-based Hong Kong Democracy Council, took to Twitter to express their dismay.

“The opaque nature of the court proceeding is deeply alarming. The NSL [national security law] has thoroughly infected every courtroom and every ruling in the Hong Kong judiciary,” Chu wrote, before adding, “There is no chance that anyone would receive a fair trial in this environment.”

“Unbelievably outrageous and unjust. The world cannot stand by while the Chinese Communist Party regime does this to #HongKong,” Rogers wrote.

Rogers added: “We need action urgently. We need #Magnitsky sanctions now.”

Hong Kong’s freedoms have been on a rapid decline since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) imposed the national security law on Hong Kong in July last year. The law criminalizes vaguely defined crimes such as subversion and secession with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

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People queue up to vote in an unofficial primary for pro-democracy candidates ahead of legislative elections in September, in Hong Kong, on July 12, 2020. (Vincent Yu/AP Photo)

The Case

When the 47 were charged in February, it drew international condemnation, including from the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.

The subversion charge against the 47 opposition figures was in connection to their participation in an unofficial primary vote held by Hong Kong’s pan-democracy camp in July 2020, two months ahead of the scheduled Legislative Council (LegCo) elections. The objective behind the vote was for the camp to field the most promising candidates to run for legislative office—with the goal to ultimately secure a majority or more than 35 seats in the 70-seat LegCo.

Over 600,000 Hongkongers cast ballots in the primary, which was held on July 11 and July 12, 2020.

The LegCo elections, initially scheduled for Sept. 6, 2020 were eventually postponed by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, at that time citing the local surge in CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus infections, which causes the disease COVID-19. The next LegCo elections are currently scheduled for Dec. 19.

The 70-seat LegCo has recently been expanded to 90 seats after it passed an electoral reform bill. Critics have condemned the bill for curbing the city’s democratic representation, because the number of seats directly elected by Hong Kong citizens has been reduced from 35 to 20.

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People hold up five fingers to support the 47 pro-democracy opposition figures outside of the West Kowloon court building in Hong Kong, on May 31, 2021. (Sung Pi-lung/The Epoch Times)

Before the court session started on Monday, over 100 people lined up outside the courthouse to hear the case. Some of them showed their support for the activists by dressing in black, the color associated with the anti-CCP, pro-democracy movement that started in June 2019.

Others gestured with five fingers, representing the five demands including universal suffrage that Hong Kong protesters have been calling for in their movement. Some flashed their cellphones, which was a common act when protesters held indoor or evening protests since the start of the movement.

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Ryan Neelam, Australia’s deputy consul-general in Hong Kong, speaks to reporters outside of the West Kowloon court building in Hong Kong, on May 31, 2021. (Sung Pi-lung/The Epoch Times)

Several consular representatives in Hong Kong also showed up to hear the case, including Johannes Harms from Germany, Joakim Ladeborn from Sweden, Rogier Hekking from the Netherlands, and Ryan Neelam from Australia.

“We are here to observe the court proceedings because when these people were arrested, our foreign ministry expressed strong concerns. And we are here in line with the transparency of the judicial system in Hong Kong to observe what happens today,” Neelam, who is Australia’s deputy consul-general in Hong Kong, told local media.

Other local activists who showed up included Emily Lau, former chairman of the city’s opposition Democratic Party, as well as retired bishop Cardinal Joseph Zen.

The Hong Kong bureau of The Epoch Times contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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