Fifteen Hong Kong pro-democracy activists and legislators, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai, “Father of Democracy” Martin Lee and Civic Party Vice-Chairperson Margaret Ng, will today appear before West Kowloon Court. The hearing will consider whether their combined 61 charges will be transferred to the island’s higher District Court.
Each member of the arrested group of prominent pro-democracy figures now faces between two and eight counts related to extradition bill protests in August and October of 2019. Spurred by the leaderless nature of the movement, the arrests were made by police in an attempt to end protests.
The prosecution of the group is likely an attempt to suppress pro-democracy parties ahead of September’s Legislative Council (LegCo) elections. However, recent pro-democracy camp primaries drew a record number of voters despite Chief Executive Lam claiming the votes violated Beijing’s national security law.
The West Kowloon Court will transfer the group’s cases to the higher District Court today, as expected. There, each of the 61 charges holds a maximum seven-year sentence as opposed to five in the lower court. It is uncertain whether the current charges will result in prison sentences, as the defence has succeeded in challenging evidence. If sentenced, expect more arrests to occur as both Beijing and Hong Kong officials become emboldened to suppress voter turnout in the LegCo elections. However, if cleared, the group will likely face prosecution under the national security law for excising their influence in the upcoming elections. Expect the clampdowns to continue invigorating voters.
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Bilal is the Director of Training and Development. He holds a master’s degree in law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts University where he extensively researched the US war in Afghanistan. Previously, Bilal has worked independently throughout mainland China as a teacher and as a domestic political communications fellow with Murmuration.