Hong Kong 47: Verdict for landmark national security case expected at end of May

The verdict for Hong Kong’s largest national security case is expected to be delivered at the end of May, more than three years after the 47 democrats who were charged were brought to court.

Police officers outside the West Kowloon Law Courts Building. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The democrats were arrested in 2021 for organising the primaries in a bid to win a majority in the 2020 Legislative Council election. They were charged with conspiring to commit subversion, a crime under the Beijing-imposed national security law that could see them jailed for life.

The defendants – among them ex-lawmakers and high-profile activists – were accused of planning to indiscriminately veto government bills and cripple government operations by leveraging legislative powers. Most of them have been detained for over three years.

According to the Judiciary’s website, a hearing of the trial has been scheduled for May 30 and 31.

Among the 47 democrats charged with conspiring to commit subversion, 16 of them pleaded not guilty. They include ex-lawmakers Lam Cheuk-ting and Helena Wong, and former Stand News journalist Gwyneth Ho.

Of the 31 defendants who pleaded guilty, four have taken to the witness stand to testify for the prosecution.

Critics say the case amounted to political prosecution exemplifying a crackdown on dissent, whilst the government has claimed the 47 “organised, planned, committed or participated in acts of subversion.”

Landmark trial

The national security law was inserted by Beijing directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution in June 2020 following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest, criminalising subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts.

Raymond Chan, one of the 47 democrats in Hong Kong's largest national security case, outside the West Kowloon Court on November 29, 2023. Photo: Hans Tse/HKFP.Raymond Chan, one of the 47 democrats in Hong Kong's largest national security case, outside the West Kowloon Court on November 29, 2023. Photo: Hans Tse/HKFP.
Raymond Chan, one of the 47 democrats in Hong Kong’s largest national security case, outside the West Kowloon Court on November 29, 2023. Photo: Hans Tse/HKFP.

The 118-day trial, which began last March and is the city’s largest security law trial to date, ended in December. The democrats were charged and first brought to court in February 2021.

The proceedings were initially set to take 90 days.

Delivering the closing arguments last year, ex-district councillor Lee Yue-shun’s defence counsel Steven Kwan argued that a defendant must have used or threatened to use violence to be found guilty of committing subversive acts.

Trevor Beel, representing journalist-turned-activist Ho, said a defendant must have had an intent to subvert state power. “Everything was conducted openly for the simple reason that nobody knew what they were doing was illegal,” he said.

When the trial ended in December, judge Andrew Chan – one of the three national security judges presiding over the trial – said the verdict would tentatively be delivered in three to four months. But he added that there were “no guarantees” as Alex Lee, another judge, was handling the national security trial of detained media tycoon Jimmy Lai.

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