Hong Kong court orders 47 democracy activists be kept in custody

Hong Kong court orders 47 democracy activists be kept in custody
Pro-democracy activists being escorted to a prison van (Kin Cheung/AP)

A Hong Kong court has ordered that all 47 pro-democracy activists charged under a Beijing-imposed national security law be kept in custody, after the Department of Justice appealed an initial decision to grant bail to 15 of them.

Thirty-one of the activists were denied bail outright, with the co-founder of the 2014 Occupy Central protest movement, Benny Tai, withdrawing his bail application after he was remanded in custody in relation to a separate case. The next court hearing will be on May 31.

The activists were charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under the security law and detained on Sunday over their involvement in an unofficial primary election last year that authorities said was a plot to paralyse Hong Kong’s government.

The mass charges against the activists were the most sweeping action taken against the city’s pro-democracy camp since the national security law was implemented last June.

Activist Joshua Wong, centre, is escorted by officers to a prison van (Kin Cheung/AP)

With the 47 remanded in custody, a majority of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy figures will now be in jail or in self-exile abroad amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

The 15 activists initially granted bail are to appear in court within 48 hours for a review of the decision.

Bail proceedings for the activists began on Monday, often taking a full day and at times continuing into the early hours of the morning.

Under Hong Kong’s common law system, defendants are usually granted bail for non-violent crimes. But the national security law removed the presumption of bail, with a clause saying it would not be granted unless the judge had sufficient grounds to believe defendants “will not continue to commit acts endangering national security”.

The primary election was aimed at determining the strongest candidates to field for a legislative council election that would give the pro-democracy camp the best chance to gain a legislative majority.

The government later postponed the legislative elections, citing public health risks from coronavirus.

Police officers stand guard as supporters queue for a court hearing in Hong Kong on Thursday (Vincent Yu/AP)

If the pro-democracy camp had won a majority, at least some members of the camp had plans to vote down major bills that would eventually force Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to resign.

Authorities said the activists’ participation in the primary was part of a plan to subvert state power.

The national security law criminalises secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces to intervene in the city’s affairs as well as terrorism. Serious offenders could face life imprisonment.

Prominent pro-democracy advocate Joshua Wong, who is serving a jail sentence on protest-related charges, is among the activists charged this week.

The case has drawn international scrutiny, with advocacy groups and politicians condemning the charges.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab earlier called the charges “deeply disturbing” and said the national security law was being used to eliminate political dissent.

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