Joshua Wong and a group of 28 Hong Kong pro-democracy activists charged under a controversial national security law have entered guilty pleas, in the largest joint prosecution in the territory in recent years.
A total of 47 defendants, aged 23 to 64, were charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under the sweeping national security law. They were detained in 2021 over their involvement in an unofficial primary election in 2020 that authorities said was a plot to paralyse Hong Kong’s government. At the time, the primary showed strong support for candidates willing to challenge the Beijing-backed local government.
Among the 29 making guilty pleas on Thursday were well-known dissidents and activists including Wong, and Benny Tai, a legal scholar, Hong Kong media said. The two men are already serving sentences for protest-related convictions.
The Chinese state-owned outlet, The Global Times, reported on Thursday that in addition to Wong and Tai, others who pleaded guilty included the former lawmakers Claudia Mo, Eddie Chu, and Alvin Yeung.
Pro-democracy Hong Kong activists in 2020 after being elected in unofficial pro-democracy primaries. They include Joshua Wong, front left. Photograph: Kin Cheung/AP
The Chinese tabloid called those who pleaded guilty on Thursday “anti-China figures” and “separatist”. It quoted a Beijing-based legal scholar as saying: “Following [US house speaker Nancy] Pelosi’s provocative visit [to Taiwan] and the release of the latest white paper on the Taiwan question, I believe the crackdown on the separatists will be a continuous process.”
Media reporting restrictions were finally lifted for the cases, which will start next month at Hong Kong’s high court. Defence lawyers have previously argued that prosecutors have not properly detailed what the conspiracy is that their clients are alleged to have taken part in.
“The prosecution has been allowed to dance around and change and add [to the charges],” Gladys Li, a barrister, argued at one of the hearings. “We will not be held at gunpoint to offer a plea.”
The case was decried by activists as a part of the steady deterioration of the special rights promised to the territory under a “one country, two systems” framework in 1997.
About 2,000 Hong Kong residents have been detained, and the main opposition Apple Daily newspaper shut down since the pro-democracy protests in 2019. More people have been arrested over ensuing actions, including the Catholic cardinal Joseph Zen, 90, and political speech and public gatherings have been frozen by uncertainty about where the authorities’ red lines are set.
In 2020, China responded to the protests by imposing the sweeping national security law, rounding up opposition figures in the media and civil society, and reorganising the local legislative council to ensure only pro-Beijing figures could hold office.
Critics say the legislation has eviscerated Hong Kong’s freedoms and brought Chinese mainland-style laws into a business hub renowned for its common law legal system.
With Associated Press and Agence France-Presse