Hong Kong’s largest trial under National Security Law: 47 defendants accused of subverting state power

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Benny Tai

29th November 2023 – (Hong Kong) In a landmark trial in Hong Kong, 47 defendants, including politicians, activists, and even an ordinary voter, are facing charges of conspiring to subvert state power by organizing an unofficial primary election in July 2020. This trial is significant as it is the largest case to be tried under Beijing’s national security law.

Among the defendants is legal scholar Benny Tai, who prosecutors allege is the “mastermind and instigator” behind the democracy camp’s plot to subvert state power. According to the prosecution, Tai conceived the idea of using lawmakers’ constitutional powers to force the government to address the demands raised by democracy protesters in 2019. However, halfway through the campaign, Beijing enacted a national security law to suppress dissent, and the primary election was deemed an illegal attempt to subvert the government. Prosecutors further claim that the democracy bloc intended to veto city budgets if they won in order to remove the chief executive from office. Tai has already pleaded guilty to the charges and has been in custody for over 1,000 days. Notably, Tai is a respected legal expert on Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.

The “resistance camp,” a group that emerged in June 2020, played a significant role in the primary election. The camp was formed following an online petition that called on primary election candidates to openly commit to pushing the government to meet the “five demands” raised by the 2019 protesters. The petition, initiated by Sam Cheung, Fergus Leung, and Owen Chow, garnered support from over 30 candidates. Sixteen members of the camp, including prominent activists Joshua Wong and Lester Shum, achieved significant victories in the primary election. They held a press conference where they vowed to oppose the national security law without hesitation or regret. Other members present at the conference included activist-in-exile Sunny Cheung, former lawmaker Eddie Chu, and journalist-turned-activist Gwyneth Ho.

During the trial, three former organizers of the primary election testified as prosecution witnesses, placing blame on Benny Tai and the resistance camp. Andrew Chiu and Ben Chung, former leaders of Power for Democracy, a now-disbanded coordination platform for the democracy camp, along with former lawmaker Au Nok-hin, stated that Tai was the main driving force behind the primary election project, and their role was limited to being “election service providers.”

One of the defendants, Gordon Ng, stands out as the only participant in the case who was neither an organizer nor a candidate in the primary election. Ng, an Australian-Hong Kong dual citizen, played the role of a voter. He initiated a campaign called “Say No To Primary Dodgers,” urging the public to vote for the winners of the primary in the official legislative election. Ng employed various tactics, such as creating social media pages, purchasing front-page ads in the now-defunct newspaper Apple Daily, and organizing street booths to promote his initiative. While the other defendants claim they did not know Ng or consider him part of the project, prosecutors argue that Ng furthered the purpose of the primary election and, therefore, was involved in the alleged conspiracy.