Supporters rally as Hong Kong dissidents charged with subversion

Su Xinqi - Agence France-Presse
Supporters rally as Hong Kong dissidents charged with subversion
Pro-democracy supporters make hand signs outside the West Kowloon court in Hong Kong on March 1, 2021, ahead of court appearances by dozens of dissidents charged with subversion in the largest use yet of Beijing's sweeping new national security law.
AFP / Peter Parks

HONG KONG, China — A court hearing involving some of Hong Kong's best known dissidents was adjourned in the early hours of Tuesday after one of the 47 defendants charged with subversion fainted and was rushed to hospital.

The hearing, which began on Monday, sparked a resurgence of public defiance in Hong Kong unseen in months as hundreds of pro-democracy supporters gathered outside the courthouse to chant and flash protest symbols.

The dissidents were charged Sunday with conspiracy to commit subversion — the broadest use yet of China's sweeping security law imposed on the city last year. It criminalises any act considered to be subversion, secession, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces.

Court proceedings stopped around 1:45 am Tuesday local time when defendant Clarisse Yeung appeared to faint and collapsed.

Magistrate Victor So later announced that the hearing was adjourned until 11:30 am local time. 

The defendants will be held by the Correctional Services Department, while the two hospitalised defendants will be under police custody, he said.

As the court adjourned, the defendants rose and gave a round of applause to their lawyers.

Beijing is struggling to quash dissent in semi-autonomous Hong Kong after huge and sometimes violent pro-democracy demonstrations in 2019.

Police are freely using China's national security law to crack down on dissent, while thwarting demos by invoking a ban on public gatherings of more than four people designed to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Nevertheless hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators met outside the law courts to show their support for the dissidents.

Some chanted slogans including "Release all political prisoners" and "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times" — the latter a slogan authorities have deemed illegal under the security law.

Many flashed the three-finger "Hunger Games" salute that has been embraced by fellow democracy campaigners in Thailand and Myanmar.

Police raised banners warning that an illegal gathering was taking place and that protesters' chants were breaking the national security law. 

Officers later dispersed the crowd outside the courtroom citing Covid-19 restrictions. The demonstrators largely complied, with some heckling officers and chanting as they left.

'Jailed, exiled and charged'

Local district councillor Kwan Chun-sang was one of dozens who camped overnight to bag a spot at the front of the queue for the court's public gallery.

"Soon after the charges were laid yesterday I decided to come and spend the night here," he told AFP. "I would like to show my support for the pro-democracy activists."

A small group of pro-Beijing protesters held banners welcoming the subversion charges.

"Punish the traitors severely, enact the national security law and throw them all behind bars," one sign read.

The defendants represent a cross-section of Hong Kong's opposition, from veteran former pro-democracy lawmakers to academics, lawyers, social workers and youth activists.

So many have been charged that officials had to open up three other courtrooms to accommodate the overspill.

The alleged offence for those facing subversion charges was organising an unofficial primary last summer to choose candidates for the city's legislature, in the hopes that the pro-democracy bloc might take a majority and block government legislation.

Chinese and Hong Kong officials said this was an attempt to "overthrow" the city's government, and therefore a threat to national security.

The dissidents were arrested in a series of dawn raids in January and charged on Sunday with "conspiracy to commit subversion" — one of the new broadly defined national security crimes. They face up to life in prison if convicted.

International criticism

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken led international criticism of the latest charges, calling for the group's immediate release, as western powers accused Beijing of shredding the freedoms and autonomy it promised Hong Kong could maintain ahead of the territory's handover from the British.

Britain and the European Union said the charges showed the law was being used to target political dissent rather than threats to national security.

China's foreign ministry on Monday dismissed the criticism, saying Beijing "resolutely supports Hong Kong police... in upholding national security as well as Hong Kong's security and stability".

The security law has curbed dissent and radically transformed Hong Kong's relationship with the authoritarian mainland

Those charged under the law can expect to be held for months until their trial, as the law removes the territory's tradition of granting bail for non-violent crimes.


As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: September 29, 2022 - 1:10pm

Millions march in Hong Kong in a powerful rebuke of an extradition law feared to expose them to China's capricious justice system.

September 29, 2022 - 1:10pm

Former Hong Kong opposition lawmaker Ted Hui was sentenced in absentia on Thursday to three-and-a-half years in jail, after a court found that he misled authorities when fleeing the city.

Hui, a veteran activist, is also facing multiple charges related to Hong Kong's massive and sometimes violent pro-democracy demonstrations in 2019, as well as holding protests that disrupted city legislature meetings. 

Judge Andrew Chan said that Hui tricked police and the court into lifting pre-trial travel restrictions by using false documents about an official visit to Denmark.

Hui "made a mockery of the criminal justice system", the judge said, adding that the deception was "carefully orchestrated".

Responding to the sentence, Hui criticised the judge for "abetting tyranny" and said the sentencing would highlight the "insanity and ineptness" of Hong Kong's authorities.

"Hong Kong's courts have become the courts of the (Chinese) Communist Party, and political trials and sentencing that target dissent have become a common sight," Hui wrote on social media.

In December 2020, Hui announced after his Denmark trip that he had gone into exile in light of Beijing's crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong. — AFP

September 26, 2022 - 12:26pm

A 90-year-old Hong Kong cardinal went on trial alongside five fellow democracy supporters on Monday over their role in running a fund to help defend people arrested in anti-government protests.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, one of Asia's highest-ranking Catholic clerics, was originally detained earlier this year under a national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong to quell dissent.

His arrest for "colluding with foreign forces" shocked the city's Catholic community and renewed criticism of the Vatican's warming ties with Beijing, including from fellow senior clerics.

Police have not yet charged Zen with a national security offense, which can carry up to life in jail.

Instead, he and his fellow defendants, including activist and singer Denise Ho and veteran human rights barrister Margaret Ng, are being prosecuted for the less serious offense of failing to properly register their defense fund as a society. -- AFP

September 5, 2022 - 1:09pm

Cassius and Roxie have spent three months at a Hong Kong dog shelter waiting for new owners. 

The two mongrels are victims of a surge in pet abandonments as the city experiences an exodus of residents due to China's crackdown on dissent as well as some of the world's strictest Covid restrictions.

They were brought to Hong Kong Dog Rescue (HKDR) after their owners made a sudden decision to relocate back to Britain.

It is an all too familiar story to people running animal shelters in Hong Kong these days. 

"We are always full house," Eva Sit, communications director at HKDR, told AFP against a backdrop of near-constant excitable barks and yowls.

"We find it very difficult to say no to surrender requests because we feel very bad for the dogs."

Those giving up their pets, Sit explains, fill out a form that includes the reason why.

Emigration used to account for two in 10 cases.

"These days, it's almost the only reason. Like, maybe eight out of 10 surrender requests we get come with that reason," she said. — AFP

August 18, 2022 - 5:44pm

Reporting restrictions blanketing Hong Kong's largest national security prosecution were lifted on Thursday following an earlier a High Court ruling, shedding new light on pre-trial hearings that have dragged on for more than a year.

Beijing imposed a sweeping security law on Hong Kong after 2019's huge and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests.

It criminalized most dissent and transformed the once-outspoken city into something more closely resembling the authoritarian mainland.

The largest joint prosecution is of 47 leading democracy activists, most of whom have been held behind bars for more than a year as prosecution and defense lawyers prepare for an eventual trial in what is new legal territory. -- AFP

August 12, 2022 - 12:40pm

A Hong Kong court has jailed two young men in relation to a violent clash during the city's political unrest in 2019 that killed an elderly man.

Luo Chang-qing, a 70-year-old cleaner, died from a blow to the head during a border town confrontation where democracy protesters and government loyalists hurled bricks at each other.

Luo was one of the only fatalities directly linked to Hong Kong's political turmoil in 2019 and his case remains a source of outrage for government supporters.

Kelvin Lau, 19, and Chan Yin-ting, 18, are each sentenced to five-and-a-half years in jail for rioting. — AFP

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