Hong Kong is once again in the throes of pro-democracy protest, starting with the appearance before a court of 15 activist accused of leading last year’s violent protests, while scuffles in the legislature resulted in the expulsion of lawmakers for the second time in the last ten days.
Among the high-profile defendant who appeared before the court on Monday were 81-year-old veteran legislator and lawyer, Martin Lee QC, considered Hong Kong’s “father of democracy”, as well as media tycoon Jimmy Lai, activist Lee Cheuk-yan, former legal sector lawmaker, Margaret Ng, and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung.
The group were arrested last month on charges relating to the organisation of and participation in a number of last year’s increasingly violent protests that brought the city to a standstill.
Some of them also face longer sentences over an additional charge of “incitement to knowingly take part in an unauthorised assembly”.
The cases were adjourned until June, to allow the prosecution to prepare for a move to the district court, and all the defendants were released on bail.
The group had earlier posed for photos, holding up their hands in the now ubiquitous sign for the protest movement’s slogan “five demands, not one less”.
“What is on trial here is the human rights of Hong Kong. We are all on trial,” said Leung Kwok-hung.
“The root of the disturbances in Hong Kong is the Chinese Communist party, destroying and interfering in ‘one country, two systems,” said Lee.
Asked if he understood the charges, one defendant, Raphael Wong, told the court: “I understand it’s a political prosecution.”
They emerged from the West Kowloon magistrates court to applause, and led the crowds in chants including “stand for Hong Kong, fight for freedom”.
Foreign governments, human rights groups, and United Nations special rapporteurs have called for authorities to drop the charges.
Hong Kong’s political situation has sharply deteriorated over the last year as Beijing and its supportive Hong Kong legislators make increasingly brazen moves on its democracy.
Also on Monday, the legislative council house committee, which scrutinises proposed legislation, descended into chaos for the second time in a month.
The election of a new committee chair had been delayed for months by filibustering pro-democracy legislators, whom Beijing accused of misconduct. A controversial law to criminalise ridiculing the Chinese national anthem is among bills waiting to be examined.
On Monday, security guards formed a human barrier around the chairperson’s desk, as a pro-Beijing appointee led an election. Confrontation escalated and pro-democracy lawmakers were carried from the chamber by security guards, who then held the doors closed.
With no opposition either in the room or willing to vote, Starry Lee – the pro-Beijing lawmaker who physically occupied the chair of the committee on May 08, sparking similar chaotic scenes – was formally voted in as its new leader on Monday 40 votes to one.
Afterwards, Democrat Claudia Mo said it was “a perfectly illegal” meeting and election.
“Used to say it’s the beginning of the end for Hong Kong. Now we’re not just near the end, we are at the end.”
At a press conference, fellow members of the democracy camp said they did not recognise Lee’s election.
“The reality in Hong Kong today is that whenever Beijing, whenever Carrie Lam and the pro-establishment don’t like something, they will do whatever it takes, including breaking the system that we have, the rules that we have,” said Dennis Kwok of the Civic party. (Source: The Guardian)