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The Hong Kong bail marathon hearing will begin on day four for 47 democracy activists

© Reuters. Supporters of pro-democracy activists wave flashlights as a prison van carrying 47 pro-democracy activists indicted under national security law leaves the courts of West Kowloon Magistrate in Hong Kong


By Sharon Tam

HONG KONG (Reuters) – The marathon bail trial for 47 Hong Kong democracy activists charged with subversion conspiracy enters day four on Thursday in a landmark case after the city’s most extensive application of the city’s national security law to date.

Foreign diplomats and right-wing groups are watching the case closely as concerns grow over the diminishing space for disagreement in the former British colony, which has taken a rapid turn in authoritarianism since the law was passed in June 2020.

Hundreds of people lined up in front of the court to show their support for the defendants. The hearing was scheduled to begin at 10:00 a.m. (0200 GMT).

“The kids wanted to come,” said Candy, a 40-year-old housewife who was in line with her two children before 5am. “This is a statement of my support.”

The hearings continued late into the night for three consecutive days, causing several defendants to become ill and hospitalized.

A number of defendants dismissed their legal representatives and planned to clarify their arguments in court. Hong Kong law restricts media coverage of the content of bail hearings.

Contrary to the common law traditions of the global financial center, the new security law requires defendants to demonstrate that they do not pose a security threat if released on bail.

Activists, aged 23 to 64, are charged with organizing and participating in an unofficial primary poll last July, which authorities say was part of a plan to “overthrow” the government.

The vote, in which not all of the accused were winners, was aimed at selecting the strongest opposition candidates for a legislative council election that the government later postponed, citing the coronavirus.

The detentions have been heavily criticized by governments in the West, including the United Kingdom and the United States.

Proponents of the security law, which punishes what it broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with life imprisonment, say that after months of pro-democracy protests in 2019 there is a need to restore stability to Hong Kong.

The defendants included the organizer of the primaries and former law professor Benny Tai, as well as prominent democracy activists Lester Shum, Joshua Wong, Owen Chow, Wu Chi-wai and Sam Cheung.

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