HONG KONG – Hong Kong’s largest national security trial opened Monday with 47 pro-democracy figures accused of trying to topple the government.
The defendants, who include some of the city’s most prominent activists, face up to life in prison if convicted of “conspiracy to commit subversion” for involvement in an unofficial primary election.
The group reflects a broad cross-section of Hong Kong’s opposition. Aged between 24 and 66, they include democratically elected lawmakers and district councillors, as well as unionists, academics and others, with political stances ranging from modest reformists to radical localists.
As the trial gets underway, here is a brief look at some of the defendants and how they have pled:
One of the most recognisable faces of Hong Kong’s democracy movement, the 26-year-old has been a thorn in Beijing’s side for more than a decade after shooting to prominence during student-led protests.
The subject of a Netflix documentary that depicted him in a David-and-Goliath-style fight, Wong has been in and out of prison for his involvement in various demonstrations, including huge and often violent democracy rallies that rocked Hong Kong in 2019.
Wong, who was denied bail, has pleaded guilty in this case and through supporters wrote on Facebook ahead of the trial: “I can feel that I am not facing the sentence coming this year alone”.
A devout Christian law professor, Tai was previously jailed for helping lead peaceful democracy protests in 2014 and lost his job because of that conviction.
A non-violence advocate, he has embraced civil disobedience and is seen by authorities as the mastermind behind the primary election that sparked this case.
In their opening statement, the prosecution accused Tai of “initiating the scheme”.
His idea was to unite Hong Kong’s disparate democracy groups into a single coalition that could win a majority for the first time.
Halfway through the campaign, Beijing’s new security law was imposed and the primary was declared an illegal attempt to subvert the government.
Tai, 58, is currently out on bail and pleaded guilty.
Over the years, avid Marxist and democracy campaigner Leung — better known as “Long Hair” — has been in and out of prison for his activism, first against colonial Britain and then China’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
A stalwart figure at the city’s rallies, he could often be seen at the front of marches, leading chants or songs critical of Beijing through his megaphone.
He and his wife, fellow activist Chan Po-ying, founded the League of Social Democrats as a more radical wing of the pro-democracy camp, advocating street actions.
Leung, 66, was denied bail and pleaded not guilty, telling the court on Monday there was no crime to plead to. “Resisting tyranny is not a crime,” he said.
A journalist turned lawmaker, Mo was working as a correspondent for Agence France-Presse when she covered the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, a moment she cites as sparking her political awakening.
She helped found the liberal Civic Party in 2006 and won a seat in 2012.
Known as “Auntie Mo” to her supporters, the 66-year-old was arrested before dawn two years ago while at home with her husband, the British journalist and historian Philip Bowring.
She was denied bail due partially to her exchanges with Western media being deemed a security threat, and has pleaded guilty.
Nursing student Chow was on the frontlines of the 2019 protests before standing in the democracy camp’s primary.
A proponent of localism, a movement that focuses on Hong Kong’s local identity and autonomy and tends to reject associations with mainland China, Chow refused to pledge allegiance to Beijing when he submitted his nomination form for the legislature election.
His bail was revoked and he has pleaded not guilty, outlining his decision in a Facebook post on Monday.
“Evil will always grow more rampant when goodness lapses, so we must insist on what is right.”
Gwyneth Ho, 32, became a hero to the democracy movement for her hours of live reporting on 2019’s protests.
She captured footage of government supporters attacking democracy activists at a train station, broadcasting even as the assailants turned on her.
She took part in the primary but was among a dozen candidates disqualified for their political views.
She pleaded not guilty and was refused bail. –AFP