Four Hong Kong dissidents charged with subversion were let out on bail late Friday after prosecutors at the last minute dropped an appeal against their release.
The four are part of a group of 47 democracy activists charged with “conspiracy to commit subversion” in the broadest use yet of a sweeping national security law that Beijing imposed on the city last year.
Those arrested represent a wide cross-section of Hong Kong’s opposition, from veteran former pro-democracy lawmakers to academics, lawyers, social workers and youth activists.
The group were the subject of a four-day legal hearing this week that sparked renewed criticism over the security law, which overturns the traditional presumption of bail for non-violent crimes.
On Thursday, a judge remanded 32 defendants back into custody saying he believed they were still a risk to national security.
He granted bail to 15 others under strict release conditions, including not engaging in politics or meeting foreign officials.
Prosecutors immediately appealed and all defendants were returned to jail on Thursday night.
On Friday afternoon, prosecutors withdrew their appeal against four defendants: Clarisse Yeung, Mike Lam, Hendrick Lui and Lawrence Lau.
Hours later they walked out of a court, greeted by supporters chanting “No rioters, only tyranny.”
“I’m very tired, I really want to go home, see my family and my cats,” said Yeung, 34, who had to be rushed to hospital earlier in the week when she fainted during one of the long court hearings.
The length of the bail hearing — and the prosecution’s decision to bring charges despite requesting a further three months to continue building their case — sparked criticism in some legal circles.
The alleged offence for the 47 facing subversion charges was organising an unofficial primary election last summer to choose candidates for the city’s legislature, in the hopes that the pro-democracy bloc might gain a majority and stymie government legislation.
Chinese and Hong Kong officials said this was an attempt to “overthrow” the city’s government, and therefore a threat to national security.