Hong Kong (dpa) – In Hong Kong, in the largest trial to date for alleged violations of the new security law, all 47 accused opposition supporters must initially remain in custody.
After a four-day marathon hearing, a Hong Kong court bailed 15 of the defendants on Thursday. However, the judicial authority immediately appealed and so they are not released for the time being. The other suspect will therefore likely have to remain in custody until May 31 for the trial to continue.
Four of the 47 suspects, including noted democracy fighter Joshua Wong, have been detained for months on charges of other alleged crimes.
The suspects, including both pro-democracy politicians and activists, were arrested on Sunday and charged with conspiracy to endanger the state. Hundreds of protesters had demonstrated time and again in court over the past few days.
The allegations relate to unofficial primaries held by opposition forces last July ahead of Hong Kong’s general election, which were later canceled due to the pandemic. The primaries, which would determine the most promising candidates for a majority in the Hong Kong parliament, were criticized by the government, which spoke of “vicious plans to destroy”.
The opposition had set itself the goal of blocking the government’s work by a majority in parliament and thus forcing Prime Minister Carrie Lam to resign. This, the prosecutors argued, was a violation of Hong Kong’s new security law. The charge had sparked outrage in many Western countries.
The chairman of the Bundestag’s human rights and humanitarian aid committee, Gyde Jensen (FDP), criticized the court’s ruling: “The suspects are being held in custody as if they were serious criminals. People who have prepared for democratic elections in a democratic process are treated as enemies of the state. This also shows that the judiciary in Hong Kong has long been controlled from Beijing, ”said Jensen.
Beijing is now planning further measures to expand control of its Special Administrative Region. A Hong Kong-planned electoral reform has been described by the state media as a “highlight” of this year’s People’s Congress, which begins next Friday. The aim of the reform is to ensure that Hong Kong is “run only by patriots”.
Party-affiliated newspaper Global Times outlined a plan that would further massively limit the influence of pro-democracy forces. The newspaper spoke of “loopholes in the electoral system” that must be closed. According to this, a Beijing-controlled body could first check all candidates running for election in Hong Kong for their political views to make sure they are “patriots.”
The paper also suggested that the election committee that elects Hong Kong’s head of government could be reorganized. The committee, which has 1,200 members, is already predominantly made up of representatives of professional and business associations loyal to Beijing. According to the plans outlined, the 117 Hong Kong District Councils so far represented and belonging to the Democratic camp could also be removed from the committee.
The controversial security law went into effect at the end of June in response to the demonstrations in Hong Kong that had been going on for a year and met strong international criticism. It targets activities that Beijing considers subversive, separatist, terrorist or conspiratorial.
Several well-known activists have been sentenced to prison terms for relatively minor offenses in recent months. A number of Hong Kong activists have recently fled to other countries for fear of prosecution under Hong Kong’s new state security law.
Hong Kong has been part of China since July 1, 1997, but is governed according to the principle of “one country, two systems”. In fact, this agreement provides that Hong Kongers enjoy “a high degree of autonomy” and many freedoms for 50 years to 2047. However, since the security law was passed, many have only talked about “one country, one system”.