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Key Hong Kong court ruling lifting national security case lid

#Key #Hong #Kong #court #ruling #lifting #national #security #case #lid

A Hong Kong court on Tuesday delivered a landmark ruling that will help unseal the secrecy of pre-trial hearings being held under a national security law.

The security law was imposed by Beijing after major pro-democracy protests and has largely eradicated dissent in the city.

About 100 people have been charged under the law, the vast majority have been denied bail and have been held in pre-trial detention for months – some for more than a year.

Precedent-setting decisions were made in lengthy pre-trial hearings, but the media has been unable to cover legal arguments due to strict reporting restrictions, although several defendants have sought their overturning.

On Tuesday, High Court Judge Alex Lee ruled that if an accused so requests, restrictions on hearings and procedures for referring a case to the High Court must be lifted.

The judge has no right to refuse “the lifting of the reporting restrictions at the initiative of the defendant,” Lee wrote in his ruling.

The verdict will set a precedent for other cases and allow the media to report more details on the application of the national security law.

China says the security law was necessary to restore stability after large and sometimes violent democracy protests in 2019.

Critics say it has dealt a blow to Hong Kong’s freedoms and transformed the city’s legal landscape – a cornerstone of its business hub’s reputation.

Tuesday’s successful appeal was introduced by Chow Hang-tung, a prominent jailed democracy activist and lawyer.

Chow was also a key organizer of Hong Kong’s annual commemorations of the deadly 1989 Tiananmen Square raid, a huge pro-democracy event that has been banned since the protests.

Last September, she and two other leaders of the Tiananmen vigil, Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho, were charged with “inciting subversion,” which carries up to a decade in prison under the Security Law.

While the public was allowed to attend the pre-trial hearings for the past year, coverage has been largely limited to names, hearing dates, and a judge’s rules.

Tuesday’s verdict is expected to concern the largest national security trial currently making its way through the courts – the indictment of 47 prominent activists on subversion allegations.

Four defendants in that case recently filed a motion to have the reporting restrictions lifted.

The group has been accused of subversion for taking part in a primary to select opposition candidates.

The majority have been in custody for over a year and the few on bail have to adhere to strict bans on speaking.

Hong Kong authorities say the group tried to overthrow the government. Those on trial claim they are pursuing legal politics and that their prosecutions show how deeply Hong Kong’s freedoms have faltered.

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