Hong Kong court finds 14 pro-democracy activists guilty of subversion

30 May 2024, 02:19 | Updated: 30 May 2024, 04:38

A Hong Kong court has found 14 out of 16 pro-democracy activists guilty of conspiracy to commit subversion in a landmark case.

It is the city's biggest national security case under a law imposed by China that has all but wiped out public dissent, following widespread anti-government protests in 2019.

Those found guilty include former lawmakers Leung Kwok-hung, Lam Cheuk-ting, Helena Wong and Raymond Chan.

They could now face life in prison, with sentencing expected at a later date.

But the three judges approved by the government to oversee the case cleared two former district councillors, Lee Yue-shun and Lawrence Lau.

They were all among 47 democracy advocates prosecuted in 2021 for their involvement in an unofficial primary election, 31 of whom pleaded guilty.

Ahead of the hearing, observers said their subversion case will illustrate how the security law is being used to crush political opposition.

But the Beijing and Hong Kong governments insist the law has helped bring back stability to the city and that judicial independence is being protected.

The US and other countries have criticised the trial as politically motivated, calling for those charged - many of whom have been detained since 28 February 2021 - to be released immediately.

They're accused of a "vicious plot" to paralyse government and force the city's leader to resign through an unofficial pre-selection ballot in a July 2020 citywide election.

The democrats maintain it was an unofficial attempt to select the strongest candidates in a bid to win a historic majority in Hong Kong's legislature.

Mass pro-democracy protests erupted in Hong Kong in 2019 against Beijing's plans for security legislation, which democrats argued infringed on freedoms guaranteed when Hong Kong was handed back to China by the British in 1997.

Feelings were high at court on Thursday, with scores of police officers and vehicles patrolling the area, where diplomats from the UK, US and Europe have attended proceedings.

Some supporters queued overnight to secure a spot.

"I came because it's a critical stage and a historical moment," said a man who gave only his surname, Chiu, 35.

The defendants "all stood up for themselves and for Hong Kong people, hoping to make a change", he added.