Hong Kong: Prosecution of opposition figures an unprecedented attack on human rights
Responding to a Hong Kong court’s decision to deny bail to 32 of 47 pro-democracy lawmakers and activists charged with “conspiracy to subversion” under Hong Kong’s national security and criminal laws, Amnesty International Hong Kong’s Programme Manager Lam Cho Ming said:
“These prosecutions are an unprecedented attack on freedom of expression and association in Hong Kong, and the four-day hearing in gruelling conditions casts grave doubts over the fairness of this trial from the start.
“The denial of bail to 32 of these politicians and activists means they are effectively beginning to serve lengthy jail time on charges based entirely upon claimed hypothetical threats to national security. Even the 15 granted bail will remain in custody pending an appeal by the Department of Justice.
“None of them have committed a recognized crime, but they have fallen victim to a national security law that deems people a ‘threat’ simply for the peaceful expression of political views and for taking part in the conduct of public affairs.
“The denial of bail to the majority of defendants was essentially a forgone conclusion, despite the fact that all those charged should still be presumed innocent. Fair trial rights also demand that there must be adequate time and facilities to prepare the defence, and this cannot be the case if the conditions of a hearing are exhausting and it is overly long. The conditions of this hearing could warrant legitimate grounds for an appeal.
“The targeting of these lawmakers and activists signals the government’s intention to close off any space for meaningful political participation in Hong Kong and discourage any future such activities.
“However, the people who gathered near the court to defiantly voice support for those prosecuted showed that Hong Kong civil society will refuse to be silenced by repression, despite government efforts to completely stamp out dissent.
“Peaceful political opposition must not be suppressed at the authorities’ will, and all those targeted in the case should be immediately released and the charges against them dropped.”
Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Court today denied bail to 32 out of 47 pro-democracy lawmakers and activists charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under the city’s national security and criminal laws in the biggest mass prosecution since the law came into effect late-June 2020.
The remaining 15 defendants will be remanded in custody pending an appeal by the Department of Justice which will be heard within the next 48 hours.
Their hearing lasted for four days as the court struggled to process the unprecedented mass arraignment. One defendant, Clarisse Yeung Suet-ying, fainted at around 1:45am on Tuesday towards the end of a 17-hour session. International standards state that excessively long and exhausting hearings impede the right to a fair trial.
During the hearing, hundreds of protesters who congregated to voice support for the defendants were warned by the police that they were partaking in an illegal gathering, while one of the defendants’ lawyers was arrested.
The charge against the 47 relates to their organization and participation in self-organized “primaries” for last year’s Legislative Council election, which was later postponed citing the need to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The opposition camp conducted those polls last July to narrow the final list of pro-democracy candidates to run in the official legislative polls, with the aim of securing a majority in the next Legislative Council.
At the time, the Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the polls were illegal and warned that they could be in breach of the national security law that had been enacted weeks earlier.