14 pro-democracy activists convicted in HK security case

Hong Kong, May 31: Fourteen pro-democracy activists were convicted in Hong Kong’s biggest national security case on Thursday by a court that said their plan to effect change through an unofficial primary election would have undermined the government’s authority and created a constitutional crisis.
After a 2019 protest movement that filled the city’s streets with demonstrators, authorities have all but silenced dissent in Hong Kong through reduced public choice in elections, crackdowns on media and the Beijing-imposed security law under which the activists were convicted.
Those found guilty of conspiracy to commit subversion included former lawmakers Leung Kwok-hung, Lam Cheuk-ting, Helena Wong and Raymond Chan, and they could face up to life in prison when sentenced later. The two defendants acquitted were former district councilors Lee Yue-shun and Lawrence Lau. But the prosecution said it intends to appeal against the acquittals.
“The power and authority of both the Government and the Chief Executive would be greatly undermined,” the court said in the verdict. “In our view … that would create a constitutional crisis for Hong Kong.”
As the hearing concluded, some of the convicted defendants waved at their families as they left the courtroom.
The court acquitted Lau after it found he had not mentioned vetoing the budget in his election campaign and the court was unable to conclude he had intended to subvert state power.
Lee, the other defendant found not guilty, thanked the public for caring about the case over the past few years. “I feel calm, as I have always been,” he said.
Lee, like Lau, was acquitted after the court found no evidence he mentioned vetoing in an election forum, nor had he personally expressed his stance on using veto power to force the government to accede to the 2019 protest demands.
While Lee had adopted a similar political platform as other party members in the now-defunct Civic Party, the court took into account that he was a latecomer to the party’s campaign for the primary and that he would have had little choice but to adopt the platform used by others. Thus, the court said it could not be sure he had intended to subvert state power.
The two will be kept on bail pending appeal, the court said. A mitigation hearing has been tentatively scheduled for June 25.
Observers said the subversion case illustrated how the security law is being used to crush the political opposition following huge anti-government protests in 2019. It also showed that Beijing’s promise to retain the former British colony’s Western-style civil liberties for 50 years when it returned to China in 1997 was becoming increasingly threadbare, they said.
But the Beijing and Hong Kong governments insisted the law has helped bring back stability to the city and that judicial independence was being protected. After the verdicts, Beijing voiced its support for the work of the city’s judicial and law enforcement officials, despite concerns from the West.
The 47 activists charged included legal scholar Benny Tai, former student leader Joshua Wong and a dozen former lawmakers including Leung and Claudia Mo.