Handcuffed: Democracy activists in Hong Kong
Photo: Kin Cheung / dpa
It was a strangely quiet autumn and winter in rebellious Hong Kong.
For months, strict corona measures and the security law enacted in Beijing in the summer had put the city into a kind of artificial coma.
But since this weekend they have been out and about again: young men and women in black trousers and T-shirts, the outfit of the protest movement of 2019, some with a yellow umbrella in hand, the symbol of the “umbrella protests” of 2014. You The destination is the judicial building in the West Kowloon district, where a trial began on Monday that Hong Kong has never seen before.
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47 politicians and activists, including former student leader Joshua Wong and prominent law professor Benny Tai, are on trial.
At the beginning of January, she and six others were arrested in a large-scale police operation, then, with the exception of Wong, who was already in prison, were released on bail, but were surprisingly taken back into custody on Sunday.
You are charged under the vaguely worded but draconian Security Act.
The public prosecutor's office accuses them of a "conspiracy to overthrow" the government, an offense that can be punished with up to life imprisonment.
"Free Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Time!"
Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the judicial building on Monday and unfurled banners that had not been seen for months: "Free Hong Kong, revolution of our time!", "Release all political prisoners!"
Hundreds of others line up for spectator seats in the courtroom, the queue extends almost once around the block.
From the Ying-Wa school across the street, “Ga yau!” Shouts can be heard: “Step on the gas!”, The battle cry of the protest movement.
But only 95 seats are allocated because even the largest courtroom is not big enough to accommodate even the defendants and the lawyers.
The rest of the lawyers, the press and the audience are watching the process on video in three other rooms.
Since the cameras only show the judge, the public prosecutor and the defense, the defendants cannot be seen.
But some of them can be heard when they enter the hall.
"You lost weight," one greets the other.
A third person tests the microphone: "My wife, I love you." The defendant Gwyneth Ho complains that she has not yet been able to speak to her lawyer.
Judge Victor So then interrupts the proceedings.
The charge is: conspiracy
He took it up again on Monday afternoon, and while the following hours were formally about bail for the 47 defendants, the basic conflict of the huge trial became apparent from the start:
Prosecutor Maggie Yang said that the defendants had conspired to win a majority in Hong Kong's Legislative Council, to prevent the adoption of the budget and thereby "paralyze the government."
The informal pre-election, which they organized in July to improve their chances of voting, is therefore a »serious crime«.
A "conspiracy," countered Paul Harris, one of the defense attorneys, assumes the intention of secrecy, while the primary in July was "highly public".
600,000 Hong Kong people took part in the vote.
Holding them was a "legitimate political activity".
That lies in the "nature of democratic politics".
The tone is factual between the parties.
In keeping with common law, which comes from British tradition and is practiced in Hong Kong, lawyers and public prosecutors address each other as "valued colleagues" and the judge as "Your Worship", your honor.
The prospect of acquittal is minimal
But the civilian atmosphere in which the proceedings drag on until the early hours of the morning belies the shift in the balance of power in the city - and the danger in which the 47 defendants find themselves: They are no longer before the court under the same conditions, which once shaped the rule of law in Hong Kong, but under the new security law that Beijing has imposed on the city.
Your chances of acquittal, even of being released on bail, are minimal.
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And their trial is only part of an avalanche of trials that has reached Hong Kong's judiciary.
On the same day that the 47 are charged, the trial of nine other democracy activists, including publisher Jimmy Lai and lawyer Martin Lee, continues in the same courthouse.
Further proceedings are in preparation and further charges, a judicial spokesman announced in January, will follow.
At the same time, the Chinese leadership announced that it would further restrict the "high degree of autonomy" that it guaranteed Hong Kong after it was handed over to China in 1997.
The 17 district councils, currently with the exception of one in the hands of the opposition, are to be disempowered, the districts will be redesigned for the next parliamentary election, and the body that will elect a new head of government in 2022 will be changed even further in favor of the government.
The opposition is to be eliminated, be it through legal or political means.
It is this increasingly hopeless prospect that, after months of being forced to stand still, is driving the first protesters back onto the streets - albeit not nearly as many as in the protest summer of 2019. The police are now all the more massive.
As soon as the first chants can be heard in front of the court on Monday, dozens of officials surround the judicial building.
Protesters withdraw, the police advance
As they advance, they hold up a blue banner: “This meeting is against the law.
Split up or we might use force. "When protesters hesitated, officers hoisted a second purple banner:" Police warning: You are displaying flags, shouting slogans, or behaving in a way that violates national security law could represent.
You could be arrested and prosecuted. "
Unlike in 2019, the protesters then fell back and the streets around the courthouse were emptying.
"Arrest" and "prosecution" have had a different meaning since Hong Kong's new security law came into force.
At half past two on Tuesday night, a defendant faints and is hospitalized.
Judge So ended the first day of the trial, 20 defendants were heard.
The trial will continue this Tuesday and 18 other defendants will be heard by the evening.
Nine are still missing.
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