A Hong Kong judge has held 47 pro-democracy activists charged under the city’s draconian national security law in custody after a four-day marathon hearing ridiculed as chaotic and ridiculous.
Chief Magistrate Victor So denied bail to 32 defendants, while 15 were granted bail but were still held in custody after government prosecutors said they would appeal that decision.
The group was charged Sunday with conspiracy to commit subversion in connection with an unofficial primary poll conducted last year, in the most radical action taken against the city’s pro-democracy camp since the national security law was implemented last June.
He then processed all 47 cases in a single bond hearing that began Monday with a session that lasted until 3 a.m. and continued throughout the week. It also denied requests to lift the information restrictions, meaning that only the ruling and relevant names can be published, not the arguments for or against the granting of bail.
With the 47 arrested, most of Hong Kong’s leading pro-democracy figures will now be in jail or self-exile abroad amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
There were emotional scenes in West Kowloon court as some sobbed inside the chambers and others hugged outside. A person stood outside the court with a yellow umbrella, symbol of the democratic movement, and a banner that read: “Free all political prisoners.”
“We are not at all surprised that today’s bail request failed,” said Po-ying Chan, the wife of one of the prominent defendants who was denied bail, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok- hung. “This showed that under the NSL [national security law], the legal system has been twisted and turned upside down. “
The 15 defendants who were granted bail are expected to appear for another hearing within 48 hours in superior court. For the others, the case was postponed until May 31.
Prosecutors had requested a postponement of at least three months to give them time to investigate further and objected to bail for any defendants. The defense objected, interrogation why charges had been brought and the defendants incarcerated if the case was so far from ready.
The wording of the national security law makes it extremely difficult for any defendant under it to obtain bail. Media mogul Jimmy Lai, who is facing trial for alleged foreign collusion in a separate case, has been in and out of court challenging the denial of bail, so far without success.
Fifty-five people were arrested during the primary elections in January, drawing international condemnation and skepticism even from some pro-Beijing politicians, who pointed out that the primary elections were a common feature of both sides in Hong Kong politics.
The authorities alleged that the 47 had planned to select candidates who could win the majority of the 70 seats on the legislative council and then indiscriminately block the legislation to “paralyze” the parliament and force the resignation of the executive director. Authorities have not said whether they intend to charge the remaining eight, including US attorney John Clancey.
The processing of the case has been widely criticized as chaotic, farce and judicially unfair. During the four-day hearing, five defendants were taken to the hospital by ambulance and several complained of lack of access to their lawyers.
Reports said some defendants were back in their cells for less than three hours on Tuesday morning after the 3 a.m. hearing ended on Monday before being returned to court, and the attorneys had not had time to shower or change.
By Wednesday night, several defendants had left their attorneys, wanting to make more presentations on their own behalf, which were heard Thursday. The content of your statements is covered by information restrictions.
“The judicial system should never have organized such a chaotic judicial review that it has made Hong Kong’s previously revered judicial system seem like the voluntary instrument of the police and prosecution,” said Professor Jerome Cohen, China expert at the College of Justice. New York University law, he blogged Thursday.
More than 1,000 supporters gathered outside the court on the first day to demand the release of the prisoners and chant now-illegal protest slogans. Police issued a series of fines for violating pandemic collection laws. Among the attendees were foreign diplomats and human rights groups who are closely following the case amid growing concern that Hong Kong’s judicial system is being degraded.
“We haven’t seen something like this before. It’s usually very fast … It’s very strange, ”said David Costello, Ireland’s consul general in Hong Kong, who was in court, about the length of the hearings. “It is a test of what is going to happen in Hong Kong.”
Foreign governments and human rights groups have condemned the measures to prosecute the group, but Hong Kong and Beijing authorities have not apologized.
On Thursday, the right-wing US think tank, the Heritage Foundation, said it would no longer include Hong Kong in its index of economic freedom, because “the events of recent years have unambiguously demonstrated that [Hong Kong’s economic] ultimately, policies are controlled by Beijing. ” Hong Kong topped the list for 25 years until 2019.
Reuters contributed to this report