HONG KONG: Reporting restrictions blanketing Hong Kong’s largest national security prosecution were lifted on Thursday following an earlier a High Court ruling, shedding new light on pre-trial hearings that have dragged on for more than a year, reports AFP.
Beijing imposed a sweeping security law on Hong Kong after 2019’s huge and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests.
The largest joint prosecution is of 47 leading democracy activists, most of whom have been held behind bars for more than a year as prosecution and defence lawyers prepare for an eventual trial in what is new legal territory.
They are charged with conspiracy to commit subversion, for organising an unofficial primary election.
Repeated requests by the defendants to lift reporting restrictions covering those hearings were denied by trial judge Peter Law.
But earlier this month a more senior judge declared such requests must be granted, and on Thursday Law agreed to lift the restrictions.
During many of the pre-trial proceedings, which can now be reported for the first time, defendants have described feeling pressured by prosecutors to plead to what they believe are vague charges.
The prosecution has been allowed to dance around and change and add (to the charges), veteran barrister Gladys Li argued at one of the hearings.
We will not be held at gunpoint to offer a plea.
The prosecution has denied being vague on the charges.
The 47 defendants are some of Hong Kong’s best-known dissidents, ranging from moderate reformists and former lawmakers to more radical China critics.
Some, such as Joshua Wong and Benny Tai, are already serving sentences for protest-related convictions.
As the case has wound its way through the courts, most have opted to plead guilty — a step that usually gets them a reduced sentence.
So far just 18 defendants have opted for a full trial.
It is still not clear when the trial will begin, and those in the dock face up to life in jail.
On Tuesday, AFP reported that Hong Kong’s justice minister had ordered a no-jury trial for the 47.
Instead it will be adjudicated by three hand-picked national security judges.
After the hearing ended on Thursday, one of the defendants Owen Chow shouted from the dock Non-jury trial is injustice.
China says the security law has reimposed stability after 2019’s protests.
Critics say it has eviscerated Hong Kong’s freedoms and brought Chinese mainland-style laws into a business hub renowned for its common law legal system.