HONG KONG – Holding banners and shouting slogans, hundreds of people gathered in a Hong Kong court on Monday for a rare act of disobedience after the arrest of 47 of the city’s most prominent pro-democracy politicians and activists.
The brief gathering of supporters holding bright yellow signs reading “Release All Political Prisoners” echoed the huge pro-democracy demonstrations that regularly filled the streets of Hong Kong in 2019. They lined up around the courthouse in West Kowloon, where 47- these opposition figures were accused of conspiracy to carry out subversive activities.
Police warned the crowd that it could violate security laws or illegal assembly rules. In the afternoon, police set up security lines around the court, forcing protesters to disperse.
“We know we can’t come in, but we still want to show our support,” said Wong Tin Yang, a district council member who waited for hours but could not attend the hearing. “People in Hong Kong are so angry. No other protests can happen, so we come here. The new law prohibits everything else. “
The 47 opposition figures were charged Sunday by police with the strongest use of national security law to date and a move that could effectively destroy Hong Kong’s political opposition.
Authorities say the group violated security laws by running in the primary elections held by Hong Kong’s progressive camp in July. The group hoped to win a majority of seats in the territorial legislature, then block legislation and force the city’s chief executive to step down.
Although such moves may seem commonplace in democracies, Hong Kong prosecutors say the strategy violates a security law ban on interfering in government functions.
The latest wave of persecution has raised questions about whether Hong Kong courts will retain their independence. Beijing has stepped up pressure on the judiciary, raising fears that judges will be increasingly inclined to convict opposition leaders.
Last week, Xia Baolong, director of China’s Hong Kong and Macao services, called for inspections to ensure that members of the Hong Kong judiciary were “true patriots.”
Mr Xia has criticized three pro-democracy activists accused of violating security law. Joshua Wong, a protest leader, Jimmy Lai, a newspaper publisher, and Benny Ty, a legal scholar, are “extremely evil” and “should be severely punished for their illegal actions,” Mr Xia said in a speech that also signals plans to resume elections for lawyers nominated as disloyal to the Communist Party.
Activists accused of subversion are likely to be detained months before their trial begins, as security law sets a higher standard of bail.
Several lawyers told the court they objected to prosecutors’ request for a three-month delay in the proceedings. Once charges are quickly filed, prosecutors also need to ensure a speedy trial, said Paul Harris, one of the defense’s lawyers.
The hearing, which began at around 4pm, continued into the early hours of Tuesday. One of the accused, district council member Clarice Yeung, fainted and was sent to hospital by ambulance around 1:45 a.m., RTHK public television reported. The hearing was adjourned about an hour later and was due to resume on Tuesday morning.
Police in Hong Kong arrested more than 10,000 people during protests that began in June 2019. More than 2,400 of them have been charged. In addition, about 100 have been arrested under national security law.