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 Prosecution of opposition figures an unprecedented attack on human rights 

04 Mar

 Prosecution of opposition figures an unprecedented attack on human rights 

Responding to a Hong Kong court’s decision to deny bail to 32 pro-democracy lawmakers and activists charged with “conspiracy to subversion” under Hong Kong’s national security and criminal laws, which was immediately appealed by the Department of Justice, 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, while the four-day hearing in grueling conditions casts grave doubt over the fairness of this trial from the start. 

47 pro-democracy lawmakers and activists charged with “conspiracy to subversion” under Hong Kong’s national security and criminal laws. Source: NOW News

“The denial of bail to these 32 politicians and activists means they are effectively beginning to serve lengthy jail time on charges based entirely upon claimed hypothetical threats to national security. None of them have committed recognized crime, but they have fallen victim to the authorities’ vague definition of national security – whereby someone can be deemed a ‘threat’ simply for the peaceful expression of political views and for taking part in the conduct of public affairs.   

“The refusal to grant them bail 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 defense. This cannot be the case if the conditions of a hearing are exhausting and it is overly long.  A four-day hearing, along with insufficient time to rest, could warrant legitimate grounds for an appeal. 

Pro-democracy supporters make hand signs outside the West Kowloon court, despite police’s warning of violating Hong Kong’s national security and criminal laws. Source: AFP via Getty Images

“The targeting of the 47 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 those arraigned today should be immediately released and the charges against them dropped.”     

Background:    

Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Court today denied bail to 32 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.  

Chief Magistrate Victor So originally granted bail to 15 defendants, but the decision was immediately appealed by the Department of Justice. It caused all 47 defendants to remain in custody.

Their hearing lasted for three days as the court struggled to process the unprecedented mass arraignment. One defendant, Clarisse Yeung Suet-ying, fainted at around 1:45 am on Monday due to exhaustion before the hearing was adjourned to the next day. 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.   

Those charged included well-known pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, who was already behind bars after being convicted of inciting and organizing a demonstration in June 2019, former university law professor Benny Tai, businessperson Mike Lam, social worker Heidrick Hui, and union chairperson Carol Ng.    

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