Who are the 47 pro-democracy activists facing jail in Hong Kong?

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A Hong Kong court began handing down sentences on Thursday in the cases of 47 people accused of conspiracy to commit subversion. Many of them – politicians, academics and activists – have been in custody for more than three years awaiting a verdict.

This landmark case highlights the enormous power of a national security law that China imposed to tighten its grip on the city after massive anti-government protests in 2019. Here’s a look at the people now facing what for some is a life-threatening could be in prison for a long time.

Bennie Tai59, was a professor of law at the University of Hong Kong.

Joshua Wong27, became a prominent activist at the age of 14.

There were twelve elected legislatorswho had often used their presence in the legislature to protest Chinese encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Mo was a lawmaker for eight years and is known as “Aunt Mo.”

Leung, better known as ‘Long Hair’, had been an opposition pillar for almost two decades.

Chan was Hong Kong’s first openly gay lawmaker.

It had been twenty-one elected district officialsincluding younger activists who were elected after months of anti-government protests in 2019.

Sham was a leader of an activist group that organized massive pro-democracy rallies in 2019.

Others were prominent activists who had worked on various social causes.

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Ng was a former flight attendant turned labor leader.

Ho was a journalist who rose to fame in 2019 when she was herself beaten by thugs during her livestream of a mob attack on protesters.

Wong was a student leader who began her activism when she was in high school.

Long detentions without trial

The 47 defendants were charged with subversion in February 2021 for holding or participating in an unofficial primary election to select opposition candidates for elections.

Unlike other types of crimes, national security cases impose a high bail threshold, allowing authorities to detain suspects for months or even years before trial. Critics say this amounts to a presumption that suspects are guilty.

During pre-trial hearings, 16 innocent people and 31 pleaded guilty, including Benny Tai and Joshua Wong. Most, if not all, of the 47 are expected to receive prison sentences, which could range from less than three years to life in prison.

The suspects and their lawyers are not allowed to comment on the case. But legal experts say democracy advocates are likely under enormous pressure to plead guilty because of the lengthy detentions, dwindling funding and difficult odds of winning in a court modeled on China’s authoritarian system.

“The process is designed to be as painful as possible,” said Samuel Bickett, a lawyer and activist based in Washington, D.C., who was jailed in Hong Kong after fighting a plainclothes police officer in 2019.

The transformation of Hong Kong’s political landscape

Hong Kong was engulfed in widespread protests calling for greater freedom from China starting in June 2019. To quell the unrest, Beijing imposed a national security law in June 2020, days before the 47 Democrats held the primaries that would lead to their arrests months later . .

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Most of the 47 have been imprisoned since then. Their arrests effectively suppressed the city’s once vocal opposition. China also imposed a drastic overhaul of Hong Kong’s election rules, effectively barring pro-democracy candidates from running for seats in the legislature.

Protests started

Mass anti-government protests began and escalated in intensity over months.

National security law passed

The new law bans vaguely defined crimes such as secession, subversion and terrorism, with a possible prison sentence of life in prison.

Pro-democracy primary

Pro-democracy candidates held a primary vote ahead of the upcoming Legislative Council elections. The 47 defendants helped organize or participated in this event.

Original date of the election

47 people charged, most of whom were denied bail

They were charged with ‘conspiracy to commit subversion’ for organizing and participating in the pro-democracy primaries. Most were denied bail and kept behind bars as a long legal process began.

New election rules announced

China has announced new rules for Hong Kong elections, limiting candidates to those deemed loyal to Beijing.

Elections are taking place for patriots only

More than thirty suspects were arrested. Most of them had already been in prison for almost two years before the trial had even started.

Closing arguments completed

Hong Kong has passed its own national security law

A court began to pronounce sentences

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