Hong Kong pro-democracy activists plead guilty to national security charges

53
2
Hong Kong pro-democracy activists plead guilty to national security charges

Joshua Wong and a group of 28 Hong Kong pro-democracy activists charged with a controversial national security law entered guilty pleas in the largest joint prosecution in the territory in recent years.

A total of 47 defendants, aged 23 to 64, were charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under the sweeping national security law. In 2021, they were arrested over their involvement in an unofficial primary election in 2020 that authorities said was a plot to destroy Hong Kong's government. At the time, the primary showed strong support for candidates willing to challenge the Beijing-backed local government.

Among the 29 guilty pleas on Thursday were well-known dissidents and activists, including Wong and Benny Tai, a legal scholar, Hong Kong media said. The two men are already serving sentences for felony counts for a violation of the law.

During Thursday s hearing, 25-year-old Wong, who remains in detention, said that the primary election allowed Hongkongers to express their political will. He said that his vote is a voice that is heard in the global community.

In addition to Wong and Tai, the Chinese state-owned newspaper, The Global Times reported on Thursday that others who pleaded guilty included former lawmakers Claudia Mo, Eddie Chu, and Alvin Yeung.

Media reporting restrictions were finally lifted for cases, which will start next month at Hong Kong's high court. Defense lawyers have previously argued that prosecutors haven't properly detailed what the conspiracy is that their clients are alleged to have taken part in.

The prosecution was allowed to dance around and change and add to the charges that Gladys Li, a barrister, argued at one of the hearings. We will not be held at gunpoint to make a plea. The case was decried by activists as a result of the deterioration of the special rights promised to the territory under a one country, two systems framework in 1997.

Since the pro-democracy protests in 2019, about 2,000 Hong Kong residents have been detained, and the main opposition Apple Daily newspaper has been shut down since the pro-democracy protests in 2019. More people have been arrested over the ensuing actions, including the Catholic cardinal Joseph Zen, 90, and political speech and public gatherings, which have been frozen because of uncertainty about where the authorities red lines are set.

In 2020, China responded to the protests by imposing the national security law, rounding up opposition figures in the media and civil society, and reorganizing the local council to ensure only pro-Beijing figures could hold office.

Critics say the legislation has eviscerated Hong Kong's freedoms and brought Chinese mainland-style laws into a business hub renowned for its common law legal system.

With Associated Press and Agence France-Presse