The national security trial of the 47 pro-democracy activists commenced in the Hong Kong High Court Monday, two years since their arrest in 2021. Amongst them, 16 defendants denied the charges. Five of the defendants–Au Nok-hin, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, Andrew Chiu Ka-yin, Ben Chung Kam-lun and Gordon Ng–are accused of being the organizers of an unofficial primary poll held in July 2020 for the city’s election.
The 16 defendants, along with another 31 defendants who pleaded guilty, are charged under Article 22 of the National Security Law (NSL). Hong Kong authorities accused the group of taking part in a conspiracy to commit subversion.
The prosecution started its opening submission in court today and is expected to take approximately two to three days to conclude. Hong Kong prosecutors accused Tai, Au, Chiu, Chung and Ng of organizing, establishing the framework and conditions of the poll, which they said aimed to paralyze the legislative council. Prosecutors argued the group tried to use Hong Kong’s legislature as a “lethal constitutional weapon” to bargain for universal suffrage through gaining majority control in the council.
Prosecutors also accused the five of taking part in a conspiracy to incite elected members to abuse their powers and functions awarded under Article 73 of the Basic Law. Prosecutors alleged the five objected to the government financial budget proposals without merits review in order to paralyze the council. The prosecution outlined the conspiracy and argued that the Facebook posts, commentaries and press conferences held by the five were meant to seriously interfere, disrupt and undermine the performance of duties and functions in accordance with the law by the body of power of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
The 16 defendants who denied the charges purportedly conspired against Hong Kong by unlawful means other than force or threat of force–for the purpose of the conspiracy. Prosecutors say they incited others or take actions themselves in participating or withdrawing from the election based on the poll results. They were also charged with similar allegations to the above five defendants, including inciting others to not exercise their obligations in the council after the election.
The trial is estimated to take 90 days to complete. Under Article 22 of the NSL, principal offenders that commit an offense of a “grave nature” shall be sentenced to life imprisonment of fixed-term imprisonment of no less than ten years. Active participants in the offense could be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than three years. The maximum sentence for other participants would also be three years.