April 19, 2024

Hong Kong’s largest national security trial opened Monday with dozens of pro-democracy figures accused of trying to topple the government in a case that critics say reflects the criminalisation of dissent in the Chinese territory.

The 47 defendants, who include prominent activists as well as a legal scholar and former lawmakers, face up to life in prison if convicted.

Sixteen of them have pleaded not guilty to charges of “conspiracy to commit subversion” over involvement in an unofficial primary election organised ahead of legislature polls.

A rare, small protest erupted before the court convened, with supporters carrying a banner that read “Crackdown is shameless” and “Immediately release all political prisoners”.

Another protester was seen raising a fist in solidarity as a large number of police stood nearby.

According to authorities, the group’s stated aim to win a majority and force the resignation of the city’s leader was tantamount to trying to bring down the government.

The defendants say they are being persecuted for routine opposition politics.

Most of the group have already spent nearly two years behind bars.

They now face proceedings expected to last more than four months overseen by judges handpicked by the government.

Theirs is the largest case to date under the sweeping national security law that China imposed on Hong Kong after democracy protests in 2019.

Beijing says the law was needed to curb the unrest, which brought tear gas and police brawls to streets in the heart of the Asian financial hub.

Wielded against students, unionists and journalists, the law has transformed the once-outspoken city to more closely resemble the authoritarian mainland.


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