HONG KONG (REUTERS) – A Hong Kong court on Thursday (Aug 18) lifted reporting restrictions for pre-trial proceedings of a landmark national security case involving 47 pro-democracy campaigners that has dragged on for more than a year.
The decision comes one day after the lifting of a reporting restriction for another national security case involving the now disbanded Hong Kong Alliance, a major civil society group behind Hong Kong’s annual candlelight vigils commemorating victims of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square incident in 1989.
Magistrate Peter Law, who had rejected previous applications to lift the reporting ban on the pro-democracy campaigners’ case, finally did so on Thursday after being ordered to do so by High Court Judge Alex Lee.
Since the 47 democrats were arrested in a city-wide dawn raid in February 2021, the case has been repeatedly delayed as prosecutors requested more time to prepare evidence, with only 13 of the defendants granted bail during this period.
The activists stand accused of a conspiracy to commit subversion, after participating in an unofficial, non-binding primary election in 2020 to select the strongest candidates for a since-postponed legislative election that same year.
The government prosecutor Andy Lo had alleged the democrats tried to cause an “acute crisis” and to paralyse the government by using the primary election as a vehicle to attain a controlling majority in the legislature.
So far 29 of the 47 have pleaded guilty, including legal scholar Benny Tai and pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong.
Eighteen are pleading not guilty, including Gwyneth Ho, Owen Chow and Gordon Ng.
Defendants and defence lawyers have repeatedly applied to lift the reporting restrictions on pre-trial hearings known as committal proceedings, but have been rebuffed several times by the presiding magistrate Peter Law.
“It is a fundamental principle of criminal justice … the public has the right to scrutinise whatever the court is doing,” one of the defendants, Gwyneth Ho, told the court during a July hearing.