Hong Kong court lifts ban on reporting national security case for 47 Democrats

A view shows a television camera at the West Kowloon Magistrate Courts in Hong Kong, China August 17, 2022. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

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HONG KONG, Aug 18 (Reuters) – A Hong Kong court on Thursday lifted restrictions on reporting pre-trial proceedings in a landmark national security case involving 47 pro-democracy activists that has dragged on for more than a year.

The decision comes a day after a reporting restriction was lifted for another national security case involving a civil society group behind Hong Kong’s annual candlelight vigils commemorating victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.[nL1N2ZT0AJ]

The lifting of reporting restrictions was seen as a breakthrough by some campaigners. This is the first time the report will be allowed for preliminary hearings for a national security case in Hong Kong.

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Magistrate Peter Law, who had rejected previous requests to lift the reporting ban, did so on Thursday on the orders of a High Court judge in the interest of “open justice”.

“It’s a fundamental principle of criminal justice … the public has the right to control everything the court does,” one of the defendants, Gwyneth Ho, told the court during a hearing in July.

Since the 47 democracy activists were arrested in a citywide dawn raid in February 2021, the case has been repeatedly delayed as prosecutors asked for more time to prepare, alone 13 of the defendants were released on bail.

The activists were charged with conspiracy to commit subversion, after taking part in an unofficial and non-binding primary election in 2020.

Government prosecutor Andy Lo had alleged that the activists had tried to cause an “acute crisis” and cripple the government.

So far, 29 of the 47 have pleaded guilty, including lawyer Benny Tai and activist Joshua Wong. Eighteen pleaded not guilty, including Gwyneth Ho, Owen Chow and Gordon Ng.

Despite the ruling, some aspects of the proceedings, including bail hearings, will remain unreported. Law also declined to comment on whether a preliminary inquiry initiated by Ng, to test the strength of the prosecution’s evidence before trial, would be reportable.

Although a full trial date has not been set, Hong Kong Justice Secretary Paul Lam has already ordered the case to be tried without a jury, citing a “real risk” that justice will be obstructed, according to a document seen by Reuters. He also cited an “unspecified involvement of extraneous factors” as the reason.

The trial will instead be heard by three judges appointed by Hong Kong’s leader to handle national security cases.

“A hearing without a jury is unfair,” activist Owen Chow shouted at the end of the hearing on Thursday.

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Reporting by Jessie Pang and James Pomfret; Editing by Michael Perry and Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

About Jessica J. Bass

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