Hong Kong HC bails one activist in case involving 47

The new security law could see activists held in custody for months until their trial begins and puts the onus on defendants to prove they will not pose a security threat when released on bail.

Hong Kong’s High Court released on bail on Thursday one activist charged with conspiracy to commit subversion. In its ruling on an appeal by prosecutors against a lower court’s decision to grant bail to the activists, the court remanded another in a widely monitored case that saw the most sweeping use yet of the city’s national security law.

The case shows how the security law drafted by Beijing clashes with Hong Kong’s common-law traditions. The imposed law could see activists held in custody for months until their trial begins.

A police van arrives at the High Court before a court hearing on the appeal against the bail release of pro-democracy activists charged with national security violations, in Hong Kong, Photo: REUTERS/Lam Yik

The new security law puts the onus on defendants to prove they will not pose a security threat when released on bail.

Meanwhile, foreign diplomats and rights groups are concerned about the vanishing space for dissent in the former British colony, as the imposition of the law in June 2020 brought Hong Kong under authoritarian rule.

A lower court granted 15 activists bail last week after marathon hearings of 47 opposition figures. Prosecutors appealed the bail decisions, however, preventing the activists’ immediate release. Four of them were released last Friday after prosecutors withdrew appeals.

Former opposition lawmaker Helena Wong was released on bail on Thursday as the High Court rejected the appeal. Community-level democratic politician Ng Kin-wai was remanded in custody. The court will publish its reasons later.

Wong’s bail included conditions of not threatening national security, participating in any elections, or contacting foreign officials, as well as surrendering all travel documents, observing a curfew and reporting to police regularly.

A guard stands at the exit of the high court where a hearing on the accused activists in going on. Photo: Reuters.

Nine others are set to appear in court in two batches on Saturday and Monday. About two dozen of the 32 for whom bail was denied are appealing the decision, with hearings starting on Friday.

The 47 activists were accused of organising and participating in an unofficial, non-binding primary poll in July 2020 that authorities said was part of a “vicious plot” to “overthrow” the government.

The vote was aimed at selecting the strongest opposition candidates for a legislative council election that the government later postponed on grounds of the pandemic.

Governments in the West, including in Britain and the United States, have fiercely criticised the detentions.

Hong Kong’s Department of Justice has said no one should interfere with independent prosecutorial decisions, as that would undermine the rule of law.

Supporters of the security law, which punishes whatever it considers as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison, say it is necessary to restore stability in Hong Kong after months of pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Hong Kong laws restrict media coverage of the content of bail hearings.

Source: Reuters and edited by Sayani Das