HONG KONG (AP) — A few of Hong Kong’s best-known pro-democracy activists went on trial Monday within the largest prosecution but below a legislation imposed by China’s ruling Communist Occasion to crush dissent.

The 18 defendants withstand life in jail if convicted below the nationwide safety legislation critics say is eroding the autonomy promised when Hong Kong returned to China in 1997, and its standing as a world enterprise middle.

They had been amongst 47 pro-democracy figures who had been arrested in 2021 below the laws that was imposed following protests in 2019. They had been charged in reference to an off-the-cuff 2020 major election.

The professional-democracy motion has largely dried up after activists had been jailed or went into exile. Rising numbers of younger professionals have responded to the erosion of Hong Kong’s Western-style civil liberties by leaving for Britain, the USA and different international locations. America imposed sanctions on officers it mentioned had been responsible for the abuses.

The first in 2020 geared toward choosing pro-democracy candidates who might win management of the territory’s Legislative Council. Prosecutors accuse them of attempting to paralyze Hong Kong’s authorities and topple the town’s chief by securing a majority to veto budgets.

“The aim of the conspiracy is to subvert the state energy,” the prosecutor mentioned in his opening assertion.

The prosecution includes lots of the metropolis’s most distinguished activists, together with authorized scholar Benny Tai, former pupil chief Joshua Wong and opposition get together leaders Wu Chi-wai and Alvin Yeung.

Tai and 4 others had been the election organizers and had indispensable involvement, the prosecutor mentioned.

In earlier proceedings, the 18 activists had indicated they meant to plead not responsible. However two of them — former district councilor Ng Kin-wai and businessman Mike Lam — later modified their minds, becoming a member of the opposite 29 activists, together with Tai, Wong, Yeung and Wu, who plan to confess the costs.

Whereas a lot of the 47 activists who had been charged with conspiracy to commit subversion have been detained with out bail for almost two years, former lawmakers Raymond Chan and Helena Wong, who appeared in court docket on Monday, had been among the many minority who had been granted bail primarily based on strict situations.

Forward of the opening statements, the pair, alongside 14 different activists, pleaded not responsible in entrance of the judges, who had been permitted by the town’s chief to supervise the case. “There isn’t a crime for me to plead responsible,” former lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung mentioned. Ng and Lam pleaded responsible.

Those that intend to plead responsible will obtain their sentencing after the trial. A few of them, together with Joshua Wong and former district councilor Lester Shum, had been within the courtroom to look at the trial.

The court docket additionally heard that 4 of the 47 activists would give proof as prosecution witnesses.

Earlier within the morning, greater than 200 folks, together with relations and mates of the defendants, lined up outdoors the court docket constructing as native police stepped up safety within the space.

Some folks on the entrance of the road, together with a gaggle of greater than 10 who got here at 6 a.m. to safe a seat for the listening to, mentioned they’d no clue what the trial was about. That prompted pro-democracy activists among the many spectators to query whether or not they had been simply attempting to occupy the seats in order that different members of the general public couldn’t get a spot to look at the high-profile trial.

Three members of the League of Social Democrats staged a small protest outdoors the advanced, urging the quick launch of all political prisoners.

“Major election is just not crime. That is political repression,” Chan Po-ying, one of many members, mentioned.

Police took away her colleague for violating the masks mandate when he took his masks off and tried to talk loudly.

The trial is anticipated to final 90 days. The case has drawn worldwide scrutiny, with advocacy teams and politicians condemning the costs.

Amnesty Worldwide’s deputy regional director Hana Younger known as on the costs to be dropped, saying the activists had been compelled to determine whether or not they need to admit legal responsibility to “a non-existent crime” for a possible penalty discount or combat a shedding battle.

“With this mass trial, the Hong Kong authorities is making an attempt to close off all significant political participation in Hong Kong,” she mentioned.

However she added the authorities would by no means have the ability to absolutely silence dissidents, pointing to the protest outdoors the court docket.

The federal government postponed the legislative election that may have adopted the first, citing public well being dangers through the coronavirus pandemic. The electoral system was later overhauled to offer Beijing extra management over who’s elected to Hong Kong’s legislature.

The nationwide safety legislation criminalizes secession, subversion, and collusion with overseas forces to intervene within the metropolis’s affairs in addition to terrorism. Aside from the activists, pro-democracy writer Jimmy Lai can be dealing with collusion fees below the legislation.


Related Press video journalist Alice Fung contributed to this report.