HONG KONG – Sixteen pro-democracy figures are on trial in Hong Kong, in the biggest trial. To date under a national security law that critics. Say has eradicated dissent on the Chinese territory.
They are part of a larger group of 47 politicians and activists accused. Of conspiring over their roles in a private primary election soon after the law took effect in 2020. Thirty-one pleaded guilty, leaving the remaining 16 to fight.
Critics say the closely watched trial. Is symbolic of the Chinese government’s efforts to quell political. Dissent since 2019’s pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. A former British colony that was promised a high degree of autonomy. After returning to Chinese rule.
“The trial represents a dramatic erosion of freedoms. In Hong Kong and is quite shocking,” said Maya Wang. Associate director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch. Adding that the national security law carries a life sentence.
Here’s what to know:
Who are the people on trial?
In January 2021, 47 people were arrested in pre-dawn raids. They range in age from their 20s to their 60s. And include politicians, activists and academics. They represent a broad cross-section of the pro-democracy movement, Wang said. “From young rising political stars to people who have been around. For a long time and have been steadfast in promoting democracy in Hong Kong.”
Among the defendants are some of the most prominent. Names in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement,. Including protest leader Joshua Wong, law professor Benny Tai. And veteran activist Leung Kok-hong, known as “Long Chul”.
Many candidates in the primary election repeatedly vowed. to veto the government’s proposed budget to force. the resignation of Carrie Lam, then the city’s top leader. While candidates described the plan as typical anti-politics, authorities. said it amounted to an “evil plot” to topple the government.
They also said it could be a violation of national. security laws imposed by Beijing in response to the protests. which have sometimes turned violent. The law. which officials said was necessary to restore stability, criminalizes sedition. secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers.
Officials deny that Hong Kong judicial. independence is under threat, pointing to the territory’s rights. bill and mini-constitution safeguards.
“All defendants accused of criminal. offenses have and will have the right to a fair trial by the judiciary.” the Hong Kong government said in a statement on Wednesday. “Courts decide cases strictly according to the evidence and all applicable laws.”
What is the significance of the trial?
The “Hong Kong 47” trial deals another blow to morle and could further divide the movement. Three organizers of the primary are expected to testify against others.
Those who pleaded guilty likely did so because. they hoped to receive shorter sentences. Wang said.