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Hong Kong convicts 14 pro-democracy activists in national security case

HONG KONG (AP) — Fourteen pro-democracy activists were convicted Thursday in Hong Kong’s biggest national security case by a court that said their plan to bring change through an unofficial primary election it would have undermined the government’s authority and created a constitutional crisis.

After a 2019 protest movement that filled the city’s streets with demonstrators, authorities have virtually silenced dissent in Hong Kong by curtailing public choice in elections, cracking down on the media, and enforcing the law on the security imposed by Beijing under which the activists were sentenced.

Those convicted of conspiracy to commit subversion include former lawmakers Leung Kwok-hung, Lam Cheuk-ting, Helena Wong and Raymond Chan, and they face life in prison if convicted later. The two acquitted defendants were former district councilors Lee Yue-shun and Lawrence Lau. But the prosecution announced its intention to appeal the acquittals.

These activists were among 47 democracy defenders prosecuted in 2021 for their involvement in the primaries. Prosecutors had accused them of trying to paralyze Hong Kong’s government and overthrow the city’s leader by securing the legislative majority needed to indiscriminately veto budgets.

In a summary of the verdict distributed to media, the court said election participants said they would use their legislative power to veto budgets.

Under the city’s mini-constitution, the chief executive can dissolve the legislature if a budget cannot be passed, but the leader will have to step down if the budget is vetoed again during of the next legislature.

In the full 319-page verdict, judges charged by the government with overseeing the case also said that if the plan to veto the bills led to the dissolution of the Legislature, it meant that “the implementation of any new government policy would be seriously hampered.” and essentially shut down.

“The power and authority of the government and the chief executive would be significantly weakened,” the court said in the verdict. “In our view…this would create a constitutional crisis in Hong Kong.”

At the end of the hearing, some of the convicted defendants greeted their families as they left the courtroom.

The court acquitted Lau after finding that he had not mentioned his budget veto during his election campaign and the court was unable to conclude that he had intended to overthrow power of State.

Lee, the other defendant found not guilty, thanked the public for their interest in the case over the past few years. “I feel calm, as I always have,” he said.

Lee, like Lau, was acquitted after the court found no evidence that he had mentioned his veto during an election forum, nor had he personally expressed his position on the use veto power to force the government to accede to the 2019 protest demands.

While Lee had adopted a policy platform similar to that of other members of the now-defunct Civic Party, the court took into account the fact that he was a latecomer to the party’s primary campaign and that he would have had no choice but to adopt the platform. used by others. Thus, the court said it could not be sure that he had intended to subvert state power.

Both men will be held on bail pending their appeal, the court heard. A hearing on mitigation measures has been tentatively scheduled for June 25.

Observers said the subversion case illustrated how the security law was used to crush political opposition following huge anti-government protests in 2019. It also showed that Beijing’s promise to retain the former British colony’s Western-style civil liberties for 50 years when it returned to China in 1997 was increasingly becoming more threadbare, they said.

But the governments in Beijing and Hong Kong insisted the law helped bring stability to the city and that judicial independence was protected. After the verdicts, Beijing expressed support for the work of the city’s judicial and law enforcement officials, despite Western concerns.

The 47 activists charged included lawyer Benny Tai, former student leader Joshua Wong and a dozen former lawmakers, including Leung and Claudia Mo.

Thirty-one of them, including Tai, Wong and Mo, pleaded guilty. They have a better chance of receiving shorter prison sentences and will be sentenced at a later date.

Before the start of the hearing on Thursday, four members of the League of Social Democrats, a pro-democracy party, including Chan Po-ying, Leung’s wife, were arrested in court. They had initially planned to hold a small demonstration to express their support for the activists. Without identifying them, police said they were arrested on suspicion of disturbing public order in a public place.

Diplomats from the United States, Australia and Britain, along with dozens of residents, waited outside the police-guarded courthouse for seats to hear the verdicts. Rights groups and several foreign governments later criticized the court’s decision.

Social worker Stanley Chang, a friend of one of the 16 defendants who pleaded not guilty, said he arrived at the scene at 4 a.m. because he feared he would not be able to find a place. Chang said he wanted to be there to show support for the defendants.

The unofficial June 2020 primary aimed to pre-select pro-democracy candidates who would then run in official elections. He attracted a surprisingly high turnout of 610,000 voters, more than 13 percent of the city’s registered electorate.

The pro-democracy camp then hoped it could secure a legislative majority, which would allow it to push forward demands from the 2019 protests, including greater police accountability and democratic elections for the city’s leader.

But the government postponed the legislative elections that would have followed the primaries, citing public health risks linked to the coronavirus pandemic. THE the electoral laws were then revised, effectively increasing the number of pro-Beijing lawmakers in the legislature.

News Source : apnews.com
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