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23 Hong Kong Democrats Facing National Security Charges Return to Court for Marathon 12-hour Session

West Kowloon Magistrates Courts. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP
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Candice Chau | Hong Kong Free Press

A group of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists and former lawmakers accused of conspiracy to commit subversion under the Beijing-imposed national security law spent almost 12 hours in court on Thursday. Some were reportedly given only biscuits for dinner. 

Twenty-three of the 47 defendants charged a year ago over their involvement in a democratic primary election in 2020, appeared at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Thursday. Among them were activists Joshua Wong and Gwyneth Ho, and former lawmakers Helena Wong, Lam Cheuk-ting, and Leung Kwok-hung.

The group appeared in front of Acting Chief Magistrate Peter Law to file applications to the court over legal disputes before the return days on February 8 and March 4. 

By the March court date, 32 of the defendants will have been in remand for more that a year. They were remanded in custody on February 28 for their alleged roles in organising or participating in a primary election in July 2020 ahead of the Legislative Council election, which was ultimately postponed until December 2021. 

In March, 2021, Beijing passed legislation to ensure “patriots” govern Hong Kong. The move reduced democratic representation in the legislature, tightened control of elections and introduced a pro-Beijing vetting panel to select candidates. The Hong Kong government said the overhaul would ensure the city’s stability and prosperity. But the changes also prompted international condemnation, as they made it near-impossible for pro-democracy candidates to stand.

Marathon hearing

Thursday’s court session, which began an hour late after a clerk said that Law needed more time to read some documents that had only been submitted to the court on Thursday morning, lasted for almost 12 hours.

Last March, the marathon bail hearing for the 47 democrats lasted for four days, during which multiple people were hospitalised and defendants complained of getting insufficient rest and being denied showers or a change of clothes.

Some of the defendants applied to have the reporting restrictions lifted, Law adjourned the decision until after all committal proceedings are completed. 

Under reporting restrictions on committal proceedings, written and broadcast reports are limited to only including the name of the defendants, magistrates, and lawyers, the alleged offence, the court’s decision, whether legal aid was granted, and future court dates.

As the session went on until almost 10 p.m., the acting chief magistrate adjourned the court at 8 p.m. to allow people to get dinner. According to local media reports, after the session resumed at 9.15 p.m., Lam told the court that he only had three packets of biscuits for dinner.

Law adjourned the discussion on legal disputes to February 4. 

After the court session ended, the Fire Services Department received two calls at 9.52 p.m. about a man who experienced dizziness in the court room. He was later sent to Caritas Medical Centre.

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