Hong Kong authorities charged 47 pro-democracy activists in the city with “conspiracy to subvert state powers” over the weekend, Radio Television Hong Kong reported Sunday.
Police in Hong Kong said they had charged 39 men and eight women, aged 23 to 64, with the offense, and that the group would be detained overnight on February 28 and then brought to the city’s West Kowloon court for mention on March 1. Hong Kong’s League of Social Democrats, a pro-democracy political party, said its vice chairmen, Leung Kwok-hung and Jimmy Sham, were among those charged.
Subversion is a crime under Hong Kong’s national security law, which China imposed on the city last summer as a means to discourage Hong Kong’s then year-long pro-democracy protest movement. The legislation undermined Hong Kong’s former semi-autonomy from China and precipitated a crackdown by authorities on the movement’s leaders.
The “national security” law requires a minimum of ten years in prison for those found guilty.
Hong Kong police said on February 28 that the 47 pro-democracy politicians and activists charged with subversion were among 55 Hongkongers arrested on suspicion of “subverting state power” for their involvement in Hong Kong primary elections last summer. The July 2020 primary elections would have chosen candidates for Legislative Council of Hong Kong (Legco) polls scheduled later that year. Hong Kong’s pro-China chief executive, Carrie Lam, invoked an emergency ordinance in August 2020 to delay the elections until September 5, 2021, citing health concerns during the coronavirus pandemic.
Observers viewed the elections’ postponement as a setback for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition leaders, who had been campaigning to make gains in Legco against the council’s pro-China majority. A group of 22 opposition lawmakers issued a statement accusing Lam of using the pandemic as an excuse to delay the vote and unfairly curb the pro-democracy movement’s momentum.
“Incumbent pro-democracy legislators, who represent 60 percent of the public’s opinion, collectively oppose the postponement and emphasize the responsibility of the SAR government to make every effort to arrange adequate anti-epidemic measures to hold elections in September as scheduled,” the group said, using China’s official name for the city, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR).
“Otherwise, it is tantamount to uprooting the foundation of the establishment of the SAR,” the group added.
Prior to the vote’s postponement, Hong Kong government officials had disqualified some opposition leaders from participating in the Legco primaries. The Hong Kong Liaison Office — Beijing’s top representative office in the city — issued a statement in July 2020 saying it supported the candidates’ disqualifications. The politicians had aimed to gain enough Legco seats to “paralyze the government” and “subvert state power,” according to the liaison office.
The 47 opposition activists charged with subversion over the weekend faced their first court appearance at Hong Kong’s West Kowloon courthouse on March 1. Over 100 pro-democracy protesters gathered outside the courthouse on Monday morning in support of their fellow activists. The demonstrators held signs with messages including “Release all Political Prisoners” and chanted the pro-democracy slogan “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time,” according to Hong Kong Free Press. Chanting the slogan alone is considered a violation of the “national security” law punishable by a minimum of ten years in prison.
Some protesters loudly chanted the slogan "liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time" – deemed illegal by the gov't. An HKFP reporter noted that the chanting outside could be heard within the courthouse. pic.twitter.com/9JMEyVFGYy
— Hong Kong Free Press HKFP (@hkfp) March 1, 2021