© Reuters. A supporter holds an indication with images of pro-democracy activists whereas queuing up for the court docket listening to over nationwide safety regulation exterior West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts, in Hong Kong
By Jessie Pang and James Pomfret
HONG KONG (Reuters) – About 1,000 individuals gathered exterior a Hong Kong court docket on Monday forward of the listening to for 47 democracy activists charged with conspiracy to commit subversion, as authorities intensify a crackdown below the town’s nationwide safety regulation.
The activists are accused of organising and taking part in an unofficial major ballot final July geared toward choosing the strongest candidates for a legislative council election that the federal government later postponed, citing the coronavirus.
Authorities mentioned the casual ballot was a part of a plan to “overthrow” the federal government, additional elevating alarm that Hong Kong has taken a swift authoritarian flip.
“That is essentially the most ridiculous arrest within the historical past of Hong Kong,” mentioned Herbert Chow, 57, who was queuing exterior the court docket and sporting a black face masks. “However I’ve confidence in our judicial system to revive justice. It’s the final line of defence.”
The activists – 39 males and eight ladies, ages 23-64 – had been charged on Sunday below the nationwide safety regulation, which punishes what China broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with overseas forces with as much as life in jail.
Safety was tight, with greater than 100 law enforcement officials deployed as supporters gathered exterior the West Kowloon court docket in one of many largest rallies for the reason that coronavirus outbreak.
The queue to enter the court docket stretched a number of hundred metres, almost reaching across the whole block.
Some chanted: “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our occasions” and “Struggle for freedom, stand with Hong Kong,” standard slogans throughout anti-government protests that roiled the town in 2019.
Others raised the three-finger salute that has change into the image of protest in opposition to authoritarian rule in Myanmar.
A number of overseas diplomats additionally queued.
Jonathan Williams (NYSE:), a British diplomat on the U.Okay. consulate within the metropolis, mentioned: “It’s clear that using the nationwide safety regulation goes a lot broader than the Chinese language and Hong Kong authorities promised.”
He added, nevertheless, that the UK authorities had “full religion within the impartial judiciary,” to cope with the defendants pretty and impartially with out political strain.
As crowds swelled exterior the court docket constructing, some held up giant yellow banners that mentioned: “Launch all political prisoners now.”
Authorities have mentioned that campaigning to win a majority in Hong Kong’s 70-seat Legislative Council, with the aim of blocking authorities proposals to ramp up strain for democratic reforms, could possibly be seen as subversive.
Amongst these charged had been the organiser of the first election and former regulation professor Benny Tai, in addition to distinguished activists Lester Shum, Joshua Wong and Owen Chow.
The fees are the most recent blow to the town’s pro-democracy motion. For the reason that safety laws was imposed on the town final June, some elected legislators have been disqualified, scores of activists arrested and others have fled abroad.
The crackdown on dissent comes as Chinese language officers put together to unveil electoral reforms that can almost certainly additional diminish the position and affect of opposition forces in public workplace.
As Beijing consolidates its maintain over Hong Kong, concern is mounting within the West over freedoms promised to the previous British colony when it returned to Chinese language rule in 1997 and which underpin its position as a worldwide monetary centre.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken known as for the 47 to be launched instantly.
“Political participation and freedom of expression shouldn’t be crimes,” Blinken mentioned on Twitter. “The U.S. stands with the individuals of Hong Kong.”
On Sunday, British International Secretary Dominic Raab described the fees as “deeply disturbing.”