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Verdict: “Hong Kong 47”: 14 democracy activists found guilty

Verdict: “Hong Kong 47”: 14 democracy activists found guilty

The activists wanted to defend themselves against Beijing’s interference in Hong Kong. They organized a peaceful primary election, which is what they are now accused of. Judges announce their first verdicts.

In the largest trial to date for alleged violations of the controversial security law in Hong Kong, a court in the Chinese special administrative region has found 14 democracy activists guilty. The judges acquitted two defendants, the court announced. All 16 had pleaded “not guilty.” The remaining 31 of the 47 defendants had pleaded guilty. Their verdicts are still pending, however.

The sentence will be announced at a later date anyway. The charge of conspiracy to overthrow the state order can, in the worst case, lead to a life sentence.

According to the Hong Kong “South China Morning Post”, diplomats from several countries and the EU followed the trial on site. There was a large police presence in front of the court in the West Kowloon district. According to the report, officers arrested several activists. Among the 47 defendants are numerous acquaintances such as former student leader Joshua Wong and law lecturer Benny Tai. The group of opposition activists was charged more than three years ago. The trial lasted from February 2023 to December of the same year.

International criticism – support from Beijing

The verdict was met with sharp criticism internationally. It marks a further decline in basic freedoms and democratic participation in Hong Kong, said a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. “The fact that a Hong Kong court has found 14 people guilty for their peaceful activism shows a complete disregard for democratic political processes and the rule of law,” said Maya Wang, China director of the human rights organization Human Rights Watch.

The conviction is scandalous and shows that all concerns about the security law have been mercilessly confirmed, said the deputy chairwoman of the German-Chinese Parliamentary Group in the German Bundestag, Gyde Jensen (FDP).

China’s Foreign Ministry stressed that the central government in Beijing supports Hong Kong’s law enforcement agencies and the punishment of any kind of behavior that endangers national security. No one can engage in illegal activities under the banner of democracy and try to escape legal punishment, said spokeswoman Mao Ning.

Allegations about a primary election

The group, also known as “Hong Kong 47,” is accused of organizing illegal primaries before the 2020 election for the Legislative Council, Hong Kong’s parliament, which was later canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The defendants are said to have thereby committed a state endangerment and violated the security law.

In their 319-page ruling, the judges explained that the participants in the primary elections had declared that if they were elected, they would use their power in the Legislative Council to block the budget. According to Hong Kong’s constitution, this could lead to the dissolution of parliament and the resignation of the Hong Kong chief executive. “The power and authority of both the government and the chief executive would be severely undermined,” they continued.

Protests over security law

The primaries took place in July 2020 – despite warnings from Hong Kong authorities that they could violate the national security law that had come into force just days earlier. The central government in Beijing defends the law, which was introduced after massive pro-democracy protests, as a necessary means of maintaining stability in the former British crown colony. Critics, however, argue that it robs the city and its residents of the autonomy and freedoms guaranteed when it was returned to China in 1997.

The security law is aimed at activities that the Communist Party in Beijing classifies as subversive, separatist, terrorist or conspiratorial. Since the law came into force, hundreds of activists and politicians have been arrested and prosecuted, and political freedoms and freedom of expression have been significantly restricted. Many prominent activists have fled abroad.

Source: Stern

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