Fourteen Pro-Democracy Activists Convicted in Hong Kong's Largest National Security Case

Fourteen Pro-Democracy Activists Convicted in Hong Kong's Largest National Security Case

Fourteen pro-democracy campaigners, ranging from a 68-year-old former lawmaker to a 27-year-old student activist, were convicted of subversion by a Hong Kong court in the city's largest national security case. These individuals are part of the Hong Kong 47, a group of 47 activists and protesters charged three years ago under the National Security Law (NSL) imposed by China. The charges stem from their organization of unofficial primaries aimed at selecting opposition candidates for local elections, which authorities claimed was an attempt to "overthrow" the government.

The court agreed with the prosecution's assertion that the activists' scheme would have created a "constitutional crisis" if the primary winners had been elected as lawmakers. Of the 16 who pleaded not guilty, 14 were found guilty, and two—Lawrence Lau and Lee Yue-shun—were acquitted. Sentencing for those found guilty will occur later, with potential prison terms ranging from three years to life.

Thirty-one of the defendants had pleaded guilty, with four serving as prosecution witnesses. These guilty pleas could typically lead to reduced sentences, although it is uncertain if this applies under the NSL.

The primaries, held in July 2020 shortly after the NSL's implementation, were seen as defiance against Hong Kong officials. Beijing defends the law as necessary for maintaining stability, while critics argue it has stripped Hong Kong of its autonomy and freedoms.

The Hong Kong 47 includes notable figures like opposition lawmakers Claudia Mo, Helena Wong, and Kwok Ka-ki, as well as 2014 pro-democracy protest icons Joshua Wong and Benny Tai. Others, such as Owen Chow, Ventus Lau, and Tiffany Yuen, represent a younger generation of activists. Some, like social worker Hendrick Lui, entrepreneur Mike Lam, and former nurse Winnie Yu, were not previously involved in politics but were inspired by the 2019 protests. Prominent figures like Nathan Law and Ted Hui also participated in the primaries but fled Hong Kong before arrests began in early 2021.

Benny Tai, a law professor and co-founder of the Occupy Central movement, was labeled a "hardcore troublemaker" by China for advocating greater democracy. Tai was previously imprisoned for his role in the 2019 protests and later fired from the University of Hong Kong. He faced subversion charges under the NSL for organizing the 2020 primaries.

Joshua Wong, a well-known pro-democracy activist, gained prominence during the 2014 Umbrella Movement. He has been jailed multiple times, including for his role in the 2019 protests. Despite being imprisoned when charged with subversion under the NSL, Wong remains defiant.

Leung Kwok-hung, known as "Long Hair," is a 68-year-old former lawmaker with a history of political theatrics. He has been repeatedly jailed for his activism, including for his participation in the 2019 protests. After the NSL's implementation, Leung married his partner Vanessa Chan to secure legal rights for prison visitation.

Claudia Mo, a former journalist and lawmaker, was among those who resigned from LegCo in 2020 to protest Beijing's crackdown. She has been in jail since her arrest in January 2021 and was not allowed to visit her critically ill husband.

Jimmy Sham, an LGBTQI activist and leader of the Civil Human Rights Front, was also convicted. Despite being violently attacked multiple times in 2019, he continued his activism until his arrest. Bail has been repeatedly denied, with a judge citing the likelihood of him continuing to endanger national security.

Gwyneth Ho, a former journalist who pivoted to politics, gained fame for live-streaming an attack on herself during the 2019 protests. She was convicted of subversion for her participation in the 2020 primaries, maintaining that democracy under the Chinese regime was a fantasy.

The trial, criticized as politically motivated by the U.S. and other countries, saw tight security around the High Court. The judges ruled that the defendants' actions would have created a constitutional crisis, significantly disrupting the government's functions. This landmark case, criticized by Amnesty International as a ruthless use of the NSL to silence dissent, underscores the intense crackdown on Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement. Most of the accused have been in detention since February 2021.

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