Hong Kong: What led to the conviction of 14 pro-democracy activists

Two were acquitted by the court on Thursday

Hong Kong pro-democracy activists conviction Members of League of Social Democrats hold banner outside the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts in Hong Kong on Thursday | AP

Fourteen pro-democracy activists were convicted and two were acquitted in Hong Kong's biggest national security law violation case on Thursday. The case goes back to 2020 when pro-democracy activists held an informal 2020 primary election to determine the best candidates to win a majority in the legislature. 

While ruling, the court pointed out that they "would have created a constitutional crisis for Hong Kong" if they had been elected to the legislature. High Court judges Andrew Chan, Alex Lee, and Johnny Chan agreed with the prosecutor's argument that they would have tried to "veto or refuse to pass any budgets" introduced by the Hong Kong government which would have led to the dissolution of the government.

“The scheme, if carried out in accordance with the intentions of the parties as alleged, would necessarily amount to ... undermining the performance of duties and functions in accordance with the law by the government,” they said.

"The power and authority of both the Government and the Chief Executive would be greatly undermined," the court said in the verdict adding that would create a constitutional crisis for Hong Kong. 

Meanwhile, the court had acquitted--former district councillors Lawrence Lau and Lee Yue-Shun, saying it "cannot be sure" that they were "parties to the scheme" or that they "had the intention to subvert the state's power".

The court on June 25 will hear the plea of the convicted defendants seeking a lenient sentence. Later, the judges will deliver the sentences to the convicted people.

Who are the 47 activists? 

Hong Kong police arrested 47 pro-democracy activists in 2021. Among the arrested include men and women in their 20s to 60s. Former lawmakers, democracy advocates, and activists were among those detained by the police. They were arrested for allegedly violating the NSL that was imposed by Beijing for participating in unofficial election primaries for Hong Kong's 2020 legislature. 

Legal scholar Benny Tai,  pro-democracy lawmakers Claudia Mo and Alvin Yeung, activists Joshua Wong, and Lester Shum, lawmakers Leung Kwok-hung Raymond Chan and journalist-turned-activist Gwyneth Ho were among those imprisoned. Some of those arrested pleaded guilty to a shorter jail term. 

What's the 2020 primary election? 

A huge anti-government protest erupted in 2019 in Hong Kong. The pro-democracy camp was set up to make gains in the 2020 legislative election. The camp was held for the primaries to determine the best candidates to win a majority in the legislature. It also had plans to vote down major bills that would eventually force the Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to resign. The protesters had put forward the demand for democratic elections and greater police accountability. 

Tai, the key organiser of the primary election, said that a majority in the legislature could be a "constitutional weapon with great destructive power". Despite the government's warning that the camp was against the national security law, the activists went ahead with it. An unexpected turnout of 6,10,000 voters voters turned up for the elections held in July 2020. Soon the Hong Kong government questioned the vote and in 2021 around 50 activists were arrested in connection with the NSL violation.  

Authorities had argued that the activists' plan was to subvert state power. 

The security law criminalises secession, acts of subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers to intervene in Hong Kong's affairs. Offenders could face a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. 

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