Source: Joshua Wong Instagram account.

HONG KONG, CHINA — Hong Kong’s largest national security trial opened Monday with dozens of pro-democracy figures accused of trying to topple the government in a case critics say reflects the criminalisation of dissent in the Chinese territory.

The 47 defendants, who include some of the city’s most prominent activists, face up to life in prison if convicted of “conspiracy to commit subversion” for involvement in an unofficial primary election.

The group reflects a broad cross-section of Hong Kong’s opposition. Aged between 24 and 66, they include democratically elected lawmakers and district councillors, as well as unionists, academics and others, with political stances ranging from modest reformists to radical localists.

As the trial gets underway, here is a brief look at some of the defendants and how they have pled:

Joshua Wong

One of the most recognisable faces of Hong Kong’s democracy movement, the 26-year-old has been a thorn in Beijing’s side for more than a decade after shooting to prominence during student-led protests.

The subject of a Netflix documentary that depicted him in a David-and-Goliath-style fight, Wong has been in and out of prison for his involvement in various demonstrations.

He has already served sentences for organising and inciting protests during the huge and often violent democracy rallies that rocked Hong Kong in 2019, as well as for participating in a vigil to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Wong, who was denied bail, has pleaded guilty in this case and through supporters wrote on Facebook ahead of the trial: “I can feel that I am not facing the sentence coming this year alone”.

Benny Tai

A devout Christian law professor, Tai has previously been jailed for helping to lead peaceful democracy protests in 2014 and lost his university job because of that conviction.

A non-violence advocate, he has embraced civil disobedience and was one of the masterminds behind the primary election that sparked this case.

His idea was to unite Hong Kong’s disparate democracy groups into a single coalition that could win a majority for the first time.

Halfway through the campaign, Beijing’s new security law was imposed and the primary was declared an illegal attempt to subvert the government.

Tai, 58, is currently out on bail and pleaded guilty.

Leung Kwok-hung

Over the years, avid Marxist and democracy campaigner Leung — better known by his nickname “Long Hair” — has been in and out of prison for his activism, first against colonial Britain and then China’s increasingly authoritarian rule.

He has long been a stalwart figure at the city’s rallies, often seen at the front of marches, leading chants or songs critical of Beijing through his megaphone.

He and his wife, fellow activist Chan Po-ying, founded the League of Social Democrats as a more radical wing of the pro-democracy camp, advocating street actions.

Leung, 66, was denied bail and pleaded not guilty.

Outside the court on Monday, Chan joined a small protest against the trial and told reporters, “This is political persecution and we call for the immediate release of all political prisoners. ”

Claudia Mo

A journalist turned lawmaker, Mo was working as a correspondent for Agence France-Presse when she covered the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, a moment she cites as sparking her political awakening.

She helped found the liberal Civic Party in 2006 and won a seat in 2012.

Known as “Auntie Mo” to her supporters, the 66-year-old was arrested before dawn two years ago while at home with her husband, the British journalist and historian Philip Bowring.

She was denied bail due to her exchanges with Western media being deemed a security threat, and has pleaded guilty.

Gwyneth Ho

Gwyneth Ho, 32, became a hero to the democracy movement for her hours of live Facebook reporting of 2019’s huge protests for local outlet Stand News.

She captured footage of a mob of government supporters attacking democracy activists at a train station, broadcasting even as the assailants turned on her.

The footage was hugely damaging to the police who were accused of taking to long to respond, allegations the force denies.

She announced plans to stand for election and took part in the primary but was among a dozen candidates disqualified by election officials because of their political views.

She pleaded not guilty and was refused bail.


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