Hong Kong's travesty of a show trial begins

The Hong Kong 47 are now on trial. There is nothing free or fair about this

06 Feb 2023

Joshua Wong, Benny Tsai, Claudia Mo, Au Nok-hin, Ray Chan, Tat Cheng, Sam Cheung, Andrew Chiu, Owen Chow, Eddie Chu, Andy Chui, Ben Chung, Gary Fan, Frankie Fung, Kalvin Ho, Gwyneth Ho, Kwok Ka-ki, Lam Cheuk-ting, Mike Lam, Nathan Lau, Lawrence Lau, Ventus Lau, Shun Lee, Fergus Leung, Leung Kwok-hung, Kinda Li, Hendrick Lui, Gordon Ng, Ng Kin-wai, Carol Ng, Ricky Or, Michael Pang, Jimmy Sham, Lester Shum, Sze Tak-loy, Roy Tam, Jeremy Tam, Tam Tak-chi, Andrew Wan, Prince Wong, Henry Wong, Helena Wong, Wu Chi-wai, Alvin Yeung, Clarisse Yeung, Winnie Yu, Tiffany Yuen.

These are the names of all 47 people appearing in court today in Hong Kong. Remember their names. They are all people with families, people who had dreams and ambitions that were curtailed as Hong Kong went from being one of Asia’s most liberal cities to a tightly controlled state in just a matter of years. Amongst them are former politicians, democracy leaders, scholars, health care workers, even a disability activist. These people are the best of us and we could be them tomorrow. Rights are fragile – their examples are case in point.

The 47 are accused of “conspiracy to commit subversion” over the holding of unofficial pre-election primaries in July 2020. The primaries aimed to select the strongest candidates among Hong Kong’s then robust pro-democracy movement to run against the CCP-aligned parties. Until then, unofficial primary polls had been a common feature in Hong Kong political landscape, but in the wake of the draconian National Security Law which was passed at the end of June that year, Beijing labelled the democracy camp’s event illegal. In dawn raids on 6 January 2021, the organisers, candidates and campaigners were arrested. Many have been in jail since, denied bail.

The Hong Kong government labels them dangerous criminals and for that they could be behind bars for anything from three years to their whole lives. They are anything but.

The trial is a sham. There is no jury, going against a long tradition in Hong Kong’s legal system, which was established in line with British common law. The judges are handpicked by Beijing. There are reports that some who are taking up the 39 seats reserved for the public in the main courtroom don’t even know who is on trial.

The 47 are walking into court with their guilt presumed. Twenty-nine have already pleaded guilty. With no faith in the legal system, their only hope is a more lenient sentence. Ex-district councillor Ng Kin-wai told the three judges: “I did not succeed in subverting the state power. I plead guilty.” That he kowtowed is understandable; that a minority will not is a sign of how remarkable and resilient these people are. Former legislator Leung Kwok-hung said that there was “no crime to admit” while reiterating his not guilty plea.

This is a show trial masquerading as justice. It is a joke. But to laugh at this brings trouble too. Judge Andrew Chan told members of the public to “respect” the hearing after several jeered at the guilty pleas.

Outside court police presence is heavy. Dissent is being weeded out. Members of the League of Social Democrats, which is one of Hong Kong’s last active pro-democracy groups, turned up to protest and were reportedly pushed away. The chairperson of the group, Chan Po-ying, said “[I] hope reporters are all filming this” as police officers shoved her.

Fortunately reporters are there and are covering it. Hong Kong Free Press, for example, will be running regular on-the-ground updates – follow them here. This is not an easy landscape to operate in. According to reports, some people have warned others against speaking to the press, while journalists have been filmed and photographed by onlookers.

We are on day one of the trial. It is expected to last 90 days, with sentencing to follow after. Alongside Jimmy Lai’s trial – now postponed to the Autumn – it is the biggest and most important trial Hong Kong has seen in years, if not decades. And yet visit a Chinese or Hong Kong-run newspaper and it is buried under other news, if it’s reported at all. They want to forget them. We won’t allow that. Remember their names; better still, say their names out-loud.

We repeat – Joshua Wong, Benny Tsai, Claudia Mo, Au Nok-hin, Ray Chan, Tat Cheng, Sam Cheung, Andrew Chiu, Owen Chow, Eddie Chu, Andy Chui, Ben Chung, Gary Fan, Frankie Fung, Kalvin Ho, Gwyneth Ho, Kwok Ka-ki, Lam Cheuk-ting, Mike Lam, Nathan Lau, Lawrence Lau, Ventus Lau, Shun Lee, Fergus Leung, Leung Kwok-hung, Kinda Li, Hendrick Lui, Gordon Ng, Ng Kin-wai, Carol Ng, Ricky Or, Michael Pang, Jimmy Sham, Lester Shum, Sze Tak-loy, Roy Tam, Jeremy Tam, Tam Tak-chi, Andrew Wan, Prince Wong, Henry Wong, Helena Wong, Wu Chi-wai, Alvin Yeung, Clarisse Yeung, Winnie Yu, Tiffany Yuen.

Jemimah Steinfeld

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