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Hong Kong court convicts 14 out of 16 democracy activists of subversion

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A court in Hong Kong has made a significant decision in the largest-ever trial under the Beijing-imposed national security law by finding 14 out of 16 activists and politicians guilty of subversion. The judges, assigned to preside over cases brought under the 2020 security law, presented their reasoning for the verdict in a 319-page document shared online. These individuals were part of a group of 47 people charged over an unofficial 2020 primary that aimed to select democracy camp candidates for a Legislative Council election that was later postponed. Many of them have been in custody since their arrest in January 2021, with two of the defendants acquitted and the rest pleading guilty.

The prosecution alleged that the group intended to use their positions in the legislative council to block Hong Kong’s annual budget, causing the city’s leader to resign and dissolve the legislature. The judges supported the prosecutors’ argument, stating that the alleged plan could have resulted in political instability and a constitutional crisis. The decision was met with criticism from human rights organizations, with statements asserting the importance of democratic processes and the rule of law. Beijing implemented the national security law after the 2019 protests, imposing strict measures against dissent and political opposition.

The impact of the national security law has been far-reaching, leading to the arrest of nearly 300 people under the security law and a colonial-era sedition law. Hong Kong recently passed a domestic national security bill to address loopholes in security measures. The trial of the 47 individuals will move on to the sentencing and mitigation phase, where the circumstances of each defendant will be considered. The sentencing is expected to be severe, with primary offenders facing a maximum term of life imprisonment, while others could be sentenced to three to 10 years.

The group of 47 defendants includes high-profile opposition figures such as legal scholar Benny Tai, democracy activist Joshua Wong, former journalist Claudia Mo, and activist Leung Kwok-hung, among others. Australian citizen Gordon Ng is also part of the group, prompting Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister to express concerns over the verdicts and continued application of national security legislation. The uncertain future ahead has led one of the defendants, Owen Chow, to emphasize the importance of faith and belief despite the challenges they face. The outcome of this trial underscores the ongoing struggle for democracy and human rights in Hong Kong against the backdrop of Beijing’s increasing control and suppression of dissent.

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