«This case has been an obscene injustice,» Amnesty’s Hana Young said as the mass trial began. «Peaceful political opposition is not a crime.»
As the 90-day trial of 16 pro-democracy figures began Monday in Hong Kong, the global human rights group Amnesty International blasted what it called the «politically motivated» charges against the defendants, while urging authorities to drop the case.
The 16 defendants are part of a group of 47 people including former lawmakers, ex-district councilors, academics, and activists who were arrested in January 2021 and subsequently charged with «conspiracy to commit subversion» in alleged violation of a 2020 national security law. The legislation has been condemned by legal experts and activists as a threat to both human rights and Hong Kong’s purported autonomy from Beijing.
The 16 pleaded not guilty Monday; the other 31 previously entered guilty pleas. All of the so-called Hong Kong 47 stand accused of plotting to turn Hong Kong’s legislature into a «lethal constitutional weapon» against the Chinese government. In a break with Hong Kong’s common law judicial tradition, the case is being tried by a trio of hand-picked prosecutors instead of a jury.
«This case has been an obscene injustice since the unprecedented mass prosecution of the 47 defendants began in March 2021,» Amnesty deputy regional director Hana Young said in a statement. «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.'»
«Primary elections are something that happens in every democratic country,» one supporter of the defendants told Agence France-Presse outside the court. «But I don’t know why something like this has happened in Hong Kong, that holding primaries is being considered breaking the law.»
During both the Trump and Biden administrations, the United States—which Beijing accuses of «interference in Hong Kong affairs» and «anti-China destabilization»—imposed sanctions on a handful of Hong Kong and Chinese officials in connection with the crackdown. Biden also recently extended a program that shields Hong Kong residents from deportation.
By Brett Wilkins