A national security magistrate on Thursday granted bail to 15 pro-democracy activists and politicians charged with conspiracy to commit subversion, only to remand them in custody once again after the Department of Justice sought a review of his decision.
Thirty-one other defendants in the case were all denied bail outright, while legal scholar Benny Tai withdrew his bail application after he was remanded in custody in relation to another case. Twenty-five of them will appear before the court again on Friday next week for a review of their bail arrangements, while the actual hearing has been adjourned to May 31.
Chief Magistrate Victor So had decided that he had sufficient grounds to believe that 15 of them, including three former legislators: Helena Wong, Jeremy Tam and Kwok Ka-ki; ten district councillors; along with social worker Hendrick Lui and AbouThai founder Mike Lam, would not ‘continue’ to endanger national security if they were freed on bail – without further elaborating.
Prosecutors, however, immediately applied for a review of his decision, and So said he therefore must remand all defendants in custody, and ordered them to appear in court again within 48 hours.
The magistrate rejected bail applications from the other 31 defendants, saying he did not have sufficient grounds to believe they wouldn’t continue to endanger national security.
Under the national security legislation Beijing drew up and imposed on Hong Kong last summer, there is no presumption of bail for suspected non-violent offences.
The group, including around a dozen former lawmakers, are charged with conspiracy to commit subversion in connection with the primary polls the pro-democracy camp held last summer to pick candidates for Legco elections that never took place in the end.
They're accused of plotting to overthrow the SAR government by hoping to win more than half the seats in Legco and then vote down the administration's budget, forcing the chief executive to resign. The power of legislators to take such action is set out in the Basic Law.
Prosecutors called for the defendants to be held in custody for three months to give the police more time to investigate, while defence lawyers argued that their clients should never have been brought before the court if the case against them wasn't ready.
The SAR's largest national security case so far involved days of lengthy proceedings and the visibly exhausted defendants were frequently seen falling asleep in the courtroom after getting little time to rest.
From the very first day, some of the defendants including Leung Kwok-hung, Clarisse Yeung and Roy Tam, ended up in hospital after fainting or saying they felt unwell. By Thursday morning, defendants Owen Chow and Lester Shum were in hospital.
Media reporting restrictions mean the arguments put forward for and against bail cannot be revealed. The magistrate denied a request by defence lawyers for the restrictions to be lifted, saying the defendants' right to a fair trial must be protected.
Hundreds of supporters gathered outside West Kowloon Magistracy on the first day of the case, some armed with banners calling for the release of all political prisoners, and with the crowd at times chanting protest slogans – including some the government claims are illegal.
Police held up a purple flag on one occasion, warning people they could themselves be arrested under the national security law.
The number of people trying to get seats in the courtroom dropped over the following few days, but supporters kept up their presence, arriving hours ahead of the hearings to queue up for a place, under the watchful eye of the Hong Kong police.
All 47 pro-democracy suspects remanded in custody
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