47 Hong Kong democracy activists to be kept in custody, says court
On Thursday, a Hong Kong court ordered 47 pro-democracy activists charged under a Beijing-imposed national security law with “conspiracy to commit subversion” to be kept in custody in a case that has sparked global outcry at Beijing using such laws to quash dissent from Hong Kongers, according to multiple news outlets.
The Thursday ruling came after four days of bail hearings and after the Hong Kong Department of Justice appealed an initial decision to grant 15 of them bail.
31 of the activists were denied bail completely, with the co-founder of the 2014 Occupy Central protest movement, Benny Tai, withdrawing his bail application after he was ordered to be held in custody in a different case, according to the Associated Press.
The case’s next hearing is scheduled for May 31, per the news outlet.
The hearings have gone on late into the night for three consecutive days, causing several defendants to fall ill and be taken to the hospital, according to Reuters via U.S. & World News Report. This has prompted concerns from rights groups and some foreign diplomats over their treatment.
On Sunday, the activists were detained and charged over their involvement in an unofficial primary election last year that authorities said was a plot to paralyze Hong Kong’s government, according to the AP.
The charges are the most sweeping use yet of the national security law that mainland China imposed on the semi-autonomous city last June, which prompted global outcry.
With the 47 remanded in custody, as the AP noted, almost all of Hong Kong’s most high-profile pro-democracy activists will now be in jail or in self-exile abroad amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
The 15 activists initially granted bail are set to appear at the High Court within 48 hours for a review of the decision, according to Reuters.
The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to this reporter’s request for comment.
Chairman Avery Ng of the League of Social Democrats political party, according to the AP, said after the hearing that the Department of Justice’s appeal of the decision to grant bail to 15 of the defendants was “insidious” and “absurd, ridiculous and inhumane.”
“We’re not surprised at all that today’s bail application failed,” said Po-ying Chan, wife of one of the prominent defendants who was denied bail, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, according to Reuters.
“This proved that under the [national security law], the legal system has been twisted and turned upside down.”
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Ahead of the bail decisions, more than a hundred supporters of the activists congregated outside the West Kowloon Court in an emotional scene, chanting slogans such as “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” which the government has outlawed because of secessionist connotations.
Some sobbed inside the chambers and others hugged outside, according to Reuters. One person, the outlet reported, stood outside the court with a yellow umbrella, a symbol of the democracy movement, and a banner that said “Free all political prisoners”.
Police assembled and hoisted a warning flag, according to the AP, instructing demonstrators that they might be violating the national security law.
The activists are accused of organizing and engaging in an unofficial, non-binding primary election last July that authorities claimed was part of a “vicious plot” to “overthrow” the government.
The vote, according to Reuters, was aimed at picking the strongest opposition candidates for a legislative council election that the government later postponed, citing the coronavirus.
You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.