47 charged under National Security Law

Top News | Michael Shum 1 Mar 2021

Forty-seven of 55 politicians and activists who organized or took part in the pro-democracy camp's primary elections last year have been charged with conspiracy to subvert state powers under the national security law.

The 47 were the first to face the charge that carries life imprisonment since Beijing imposed the law on Hong Kong last June.

They were not allowed to extend their bail and were detained in police custody overnight. They will appear at West Kowloon magistrates' courts this morning.

Police confirmed late yesterday that they have laid charges against 47 people, 39 men and eight women aged between 23 and 64, with one count each of conspiracy to commit subversion.

Among those charged were the organizers of the unofficial primary elections for the now-postponed Legislative Council election, including Occupy Central founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting, former lawmaker Au Nok-hin, Ng Ching-hang - who goes by the pseudonym Lee Bak Lou on LIHKG - and the convener and vice-convener of the now-disbanded political group Power for Democracy, Andrew Chiu Ka-yin and Chung Kam-lun.

Power for Democracy announced its disbandment on Saturday, a day after all 55 politicians and activists arrested in January were told to report to the police.

That was weeks ahead of their next scheduled check-in under bail agreements on April 8. In a brief statement, Power Democracy, which acted as a mediating platform for electoral coordination among pan-democratic parties, said it has "completed its historical mission."

Others charged took part in the primaries, such as former lawmakers and dozens of district councilors, who were charged under Article 22 of the National Security Law.

After reporting to the police yesterday morning, Albert Ho Chun-yan, who represents Tai, said the police accused Tai of conspiring to subvert state powers by abusing Legislative Council procedures, including indiscriminately vetoing the budget in hopes of forcing the chief executive to resign.

Ho said: "Even those who have studied the law found it hard to understand how Tai is breaching the law. Legco procedures clearly state that checking and balancing the executive branch by vetoing the budget is a power given to lawmakers. The key point is the definition of 'abuse.'"

He also said Tai had already been mentally prepared for some time and was calm while facing the charge yesterday.

Earlier in the morning, Tsuen Wan district councillor Lester Shum said Hongkongers should stay true to their 2019 decision to fight the regime, before entering the police station accompanied by his newly wed wife Nicole Yu Sze-long.

"The government is beginning its revenge against the pro-democracy camp. We decided not to bow before an authoritarian regime a long time ago. I hope everyone holds on to this decision and soldiers on in the rough days to come," Shum added.

Eastern district councilor Lee Yue-shun from the Civic Party said he had expected to be among those charged when he was called in by the police earlier than expected.

"Despite being mentally prepared for being charged, suddenly being told to report to the police earlier messed up my schedule, and I had to hand over working arrangements at my office very abruptly," Lee said.

As he arrived at the door of the police station, he hugged his family and friends with teary eyes before reporting to the police.

Lee's party released a statement confirming his arrest, alongside three other former lawmakers of the party.

"Sometimes we cannot live our lives in peace and also with integrity," the party said. "Therefore we will try our best in living with integrity, and hope we will be safe. History will stand on the side of justice and daybreak will come one day."

Eight people who were arrested with the 47 have not been charged. They include the accused coordinator of the primaries, human rights lawyer John Clancey, and James To Kun-sun and Roy Kwong Chun-yu, who had their bail extended to May 4.

Clancey said police officers did not tell him why he was not charged together with others, but added: "Although I am not detained under police custody, Hong Kong has become an increasingly restricted detention center itself."

The Democratic Party's James To said the charge against fellow pro-democracy politicians and activists was ridiculous, saying: "The charge cannot be understood or explained with logic."

But he stopped short of mentioning details of his case, as it is ongoing.

The primaries held in July was part of the pan-democratic camp's "35-plus" strategy to win at least half of the 70 seats in the Legco elections originally set for last September in hopes of gathering a powerful force to block government budgets and bill proposals.

However, the Legco election was postponed by a year to this September amid the pandemic.

The European Union's Office in Hong Kong and Macau said yesterday the charges laid were of great concern and called for the immediate release of those arrested.

"The nature of these charges makes clear that legitimate political pluralism will no longer be tolerated in Hong Kong," the office said.

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