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After spending a collective 108 years in custody, 47 individuals from Hong Kong are awaiting the outcome of their security trial.



A verdict is finally looming in Hong Kong’s longest running and largest national security trial of 47 pro-democracy legislators and political activists, with the defendants having logged 39,000 days on remand even before the sentencing phase begins. The group was arrested in January 2021 for allegedly conspiring to commit “subversion” by organizing an unofficial primary election to choose pro-democracy candidates in July 2020, with prosecutors claiming it was an attempt to “overthrow” the government. Two-thirds of the defendants have been in remand since March 2021, with a panel of three judges set to deliver their verdict for the 16 defendants who pleaded “not guilty”.

Despite the long wait for the verdict, the conclusion seems foregone, according to Eric Lai, a research fellow at the Georgetown Center for Asian Law, who believes that most of the defendants will be convicted under the direction of Beijing. The group includes former lawmakers, political party figures, and key opposition figures who were icons of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. More than 600,000 people turned out to vote in the 2020 primaries, with the aim to choose the strongest candidates for the Legislative Council election, which was later postponed. The defendants face a maximum of life imprisonment under the security law imposed by Beijing in 2020.

The defendants range from their late 20s to their late 60s and include high profile opposition figures like Benny Tai, Joshua Wong, Claudia Mo, and Leung Kwok-hung. Some defendants have maintained lower profiles but have dedicated their lives to public service. Those who pleaded not guilty face charges of up to ten years in jail, with those who are identified as leaders facing a maximum of life imprisonment. The trial of the 47 will proceed to its sentencing and mitigation phase after the verdict is read, a process that could take up to six months to reach its full conclusion.

The enforcement of the national security law and the mass trial have already damaged Hong Kong’s reputation as the “freest” city in Asia, leading to an exodus of foreign companies and financial institutions. Kevin Yam, a former Hong Kong lawyer and democracy activist, warns that the trial should give pause to international businesses considering returning to Hong Kong due to the obliteration of the opposition in the political scene. As the police dedicate resources to prosecuting political offences, ordinary crime is increasing in Hong Kong, with a significant rise in online scams and fraud.

Before the national security law, the opposition would have been able to hold the government accountable for the surge in crime, but the current environment in Hong Kong has led to incompetence being promoted by the central government. Despite the challenges faced by the pro-democracy activists and legislators in Hong Kong, the trial highlights the ongoing struggle for democracy and the rule of law in the face of increased government control and suppression of dissent. The outcome of the trial will have far-reaching implications for the future of Hong Kong as it navigates its relationship with Beijing and strives to uphold the freedoms and rights of its citizens.

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