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Restrictions lifted on Hong Kong’s largest security trial

#Restrictions #lifted #Hong #Kongs #largest #security #trial

Reporting restrictions for Hong Kong’s main national security prosecutor’s office were lifted on Thursday after an earlier Supreme Court ruling that sheds new light on the pre-trial hearings, which have dragged on for more than a year.

Beijing imposed a comprehensive security law on Hong Kong after large and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests.

The law has criminalized most dissent, transforming the once-open city into something more akin to the authoritarian mainland.

The largest joint indictment yet is aimed at 47 leading democracy activists, most of whom have been held behind bars for over a year while prosecution and defense lawyers prepare for an eventual trial in uncharted legal territory.

They are charged with “conspiracy to commit subversion” for organizing an unofficial primary.

Repeated requests by the defendants to lift restrictions on coverage of these hearings were denied by their trial judge, Peter Law.

But earlier this month, a senior judge said such requests must be granted, and on Thursday Law agreed to lift the restrictions.

– Vague allegations? –

During many of the preliminary trials now being reported for the first time, defendants have described feeling pressured by prosecutors to plead what they felt were vague charges.

Defense attorneys have also argued that prosecutors have not spelled out exactly what conspiracy their clients are said to have been involved in.

“The prosecution was allowed to dance around and change and add (to the charges),” argued veteran attorney Gladys Li at one of the hearings.

“We will not be held at gunpoint to offer a plea deal,” she added.

Prosecutors have denied that the allegations were vague.

The 47 accused are among Hong Kong’s most prominent dissidents, ranging from moderate reformists and former lawmakers to more radical China critics.

Some, like Joshua Wong and Benny Tai, are already serving sentences for protest-related convictions.

As the case made its way through the courts, most chose to plead guilty – a move that usually entitles them to a reduced sentence.

So far, only 18 defendants have opted for a full trial.

It is still unclear when the trial will begin, and the accused face life imprisonment.

On Tuesday, AFP reported that the Hong Kong Justice Minister has ordered a trial without a jury for the 47 pro-democracy defendants.

Instead, it will be decided by three handpicked national safety judges.

China says security law restored stability after 2019 protests.

Critics say it has gutted Hong Kong’s freedoms and brought mainland China-style laws to a business hub known for its common-law legal system.

Two senior British judges who occasionally sit at Hong Kong’s top court resigned earlier this year over security law concerns.

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