HONG KONG’S biggest national security law trial of 47 democracy advocates began on 6 February, with defendants facing charges of ‘conspiracy to commit subversion’.

Hana Young, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director, said: “This case has been an obscene injustice since the unprecedented mass prosecution of the 47 defendants began in March 2021. In a trial that lays bare the intrinsically abusive nature of the National Security Law, some of the defendants face up to life in prison simply for taking part in political party primaries. They are now forced to make the impossible decision between pleading guilty to a non-existent crime for a potential reduction in their sentence or fighting a losing battle under the unjust National Security Law.

“Most of the 47 have been detained for two years without trial – whatever happens in the trial, that injustice alone can never be undone. With this mass trial, the Hong Kong government is attempting to shut off all meaningful political participation, but the fact that people came to the court today to protest against these prosecutions, despite the risks, shows the Hong Kong authorities will never be able to fully crush dissent.

“People must be allowed to express their opinions freely in Hong Kong, without the threat of jail. Peaceful political opposition is not a crime. The charges against the 47 are based entirely on supposed hypothetical threats to national security. All those still detained in the case should be immediately released and the charges against all dropped.”

In Hong Kong’s largest prosecution under the National Security Law, which was enacted in June 2020, the defendants in this case are jointly charged with ‘conspiracy to commit subversion’.

The charges relate to their organisation and participation in self-organised primaries for the 2020 Legislative Council elections that were ultimately postponed by the authorities as the central Chinese government brought in a new electoral system that strictly vetted who could stand for office.

At the time, the then Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, said the primaries were illegal and warned they could be in breach of the National Security Law that had been enacted only weeks earlier.

To treat these primaries which were conducted by political parties to select candidates for elections as a genuine threat to Hong Kong’s existence, territorial integrity or political independence fails to meet the high threshold of application for ‘national security’ that international human rights standards require.

* More information on Hong Kong’s National Security Law here.

* Source: Amnesty International