Benny Tai and 30 others plead guilty in Hong Kong’s primary election subversion trial, Claudia Mo’s representative suggests 5-6 years sentencing

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From left to right: Claudia Mo, Benny Tai and Wong Bik-wan.

10th July 2024 – (Hong Kong) Benny Tai and 30 other defendants involved in the 2020 Legislative Council primary elections have been charged with conspiracy to subvert the state’s political power. Among them, 14 individuals have been convicted after trial, while Tai and 31 others have pleaded guilty. Today, nine of the convicted defendants who participated in the Kowloon West primary, including Claudia Mo, have begun their plea hearings at the temporary High Court in West Kowloon. Mo’s legal representative suggested a sentencing starting point of 5 to 6 years, while another representative, Wong Bik-wan, stated that she was under attack during a forum and made remarks about using her power, including vetoing budget proposals, to fight for the five demands.

The defendants seeking leniency today include Mo, Jimmy Sham, Frankie Fung, Nathan Lau, Ho Kai-ming, Wong Bik-wan, Wong Pak-yu, Winnie Yu and Lester Shum, and Yu Wai-ming. Ho, Wong, and Yu were convicted after trial.

During the representation by Wong’s counsel, it was argued that Wong did not participate in the coordination meetings and did not sign the “Loyalty to the End” declaration. Wong’s focus has always been on livelihood issues. The counsel admitted that Wong mentioned using constitutional powers and means to fight for the five demands, including vetoing budget proposals, during an election forum. The counsel explained that Wong was under attack by other radical candidates at the time and felt nervous, leading her to make those remarks, which were inconsistent with her personality. The counsel argued that Wong’s role in the primary election was passive and should be classified as “other participants.” Representing former Legislative Council member Claudia Mo, her counsel argued that although the case mentioned Benny Tai seeking Mo’s opinion on the legality of the primary, Mo also expressed her hope for international support. However, the counsel emphasized that Mo did not organize the primary and deeply regretted her involvement, suggesting a sentencing starting point of 5 to 6 years.

During the plea hearing, Lester Shum’s counsel read out a letter written by Shum himself, expressing deep reflection and regret. Shum acknowledged that indiscriminately vetoing budget proposals would affect people’s livelihoods and threaten national security. He apologised to the public and hoped for forgiveness. Ho Kai-ming’s counsel stated that Ho had already reflected on his actions and would stay away from politics in the future, with a very low chance of reoffending. The counsel hoped that the court would impose a sentence of no more than 3 years. Nathan Lau’s representative argued that Lau mistakenly believed his actions were legal, and considering all factors, the court should classify him as “other participants.” Wong’s counsel stated that even though Wong actively participated, he should not be considered at the higher end of the sentencing range.

A senior barrister representing Frankie Fung highlighted the defendants’ motives, noting that unlike typical cases involving robbery or drug trafficking, the defendants had the best intentions and employed peaceful means. Furthermore, if the primary posed a severe threat to national security, law enforcement agencies should have made arrests shortly after the National Security Law came into effect in January 2021. However, the arrests were made much later. The senior barrister mentioned that Fung had personally written a letter of apology to the pro-democracy activists he had criticized. During the plea stage, there was a minor incident when the judge interrupted the senior barrister’s submissions, sternly warning the defendants not to communicate with the public during the court session, or else they would be promptly removed to another courtroom for observation.

The plea hearings will continue tomorrow, and the court will consider the submissions made by the defendants and their legal representatives before determining the sentences.